So what if it's not the sexiest position in football? It ranks right up there on the Patriots' list of needs headed into the 2022 season. You know where we're going here.
With Shaq Mason traded to Tampa Bay and Ted Karras signing a new contract in Cincinnati, the Patriots could use another starting-caliber player to align alongside David Andrews. Mike Onwenu looks slated to take one starting guard spot. But there's a vacancy at the other.
What are the Patriots looking for when they go digging for centers and guards, then? Take a peek at some of the best they've selected -- Mason, Joe Thuney, Logan Mankins -- and there are some trends. As is the case at tackle, they want athletes. If you can run a quick three-cone drill in the 7.5-second range, if you've got a 40-yard dash time in the 5.15-second range and a shuttle time in the 4.5-second neighborhood, you've got a shot.
But, as is the case at every spot, there are exceptions.
Onwenu wasn't thought to be a great athlete leaving Michigan, but he was a massive human being at 350 pounds, and he was athletic enough. "Smart, tough and athletic enough," by the way, was how Dante Scarnecchia long described the players he liked best up front.
Let's get into the best interior offensive line options from this year's class ...
Zion Johnson, Boston College, 6-foot-3, 312 pounds
Johnson checks just about every single box the Patriots have sought in interior offensive linemen. He has plenty of size. His athleticism (5.18-second 40, 4.46 short shuttle, 7.38-second three-cone) makes him a tremendous mover at this position. And he was named the top player -- regardless of position -- at Senior Bowl practices this year.
Combine that with sound fundamentals and a professional approach to his craft and you have perhaps the best interior offensive line fit for the Patriots in this class. He could start from Day 1. If Bill Belichick wants him, he may have to snag Johnson at No. 21 overall.
Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa, 6-foot-2, 296 pounds
Linderbaum is undersized. No doubt about it. But he was a dominant center under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. Might he have trouble holding up against power at the pro level if he doesn't crack 300 pounds? Possibly. But Jason Kelce put together a phenomenal career for the Eagles operating under 300 pounds. David Andrews is just a few pounds heavier than Linderbaum.
Bottom line? Linderbaum's tape, his athleticism, and his connection to the Belichick tree certainly make him eligible for this list.
Kenyon Green, Texas A&M, 6-foot-4, 323 pounds
Green is athletic, versatile, and Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner believes his best professional comp is Patriots left tackle Isaiah Wynn. Unlike Wynn, Green figures to be a guard at the next level. But, when healthy, Wynn has shown himself to be a solid athlete in New England. Green would be just as talented a mover should he happen to align next to Wynn at the pro level. His shuttle (5.12 seconds) and 40 time (5.24 seconds) were excellent at this year's combine. But against some of the best defensive linemen in the country, Green showed good explosiveness. He'd also be a versatile chess piece for Belichick, having played every position along the line in 2021 other than center.
Luke Fortner, Kentucky, 6-foot-4, 307 pounds
Because of an extra year of eligibility provided due to COVID, Fortner was actually a six-year player for the Wildcats. Aside from earning his bachelor's in mechanical engineering, he also picked up a masters in aerospace engineering and got started on his MBA. He was a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy (also known as the Academic Heisman). Oh, and he was a captain. And he made protection calls at the line for his offense.
Sound like a Patriots offensive lineman? He can play, too. Center or guard. He's not an elite athlete (5.21-second 40, 7.75-second three-cone), but he's athletic enough and could serve as an interior offensive line super-sub if there are any concerns about his ability to start right away at the next level.
Cole Strange, Tennessee-Chattanooga, 6-foot-5, 307 pounds
Strange may not hail from the SEC, but he moves like maybe he should've been recruited there. Tap his name into Mockdraftable.com for some comparisons to other interior linemen of similar heights, weights and athletic testing measures? The first two names you'll see are Thuney and recently-retired Bucs guard Ali Marpet. Plus, he ticks the "smart" and "tough" boxes as well.
This Senior Bowl standout was a five-year starter on the offensive line. He played both left guard and left tackle last season, and during the build up to the draft, he's also worked out at center. Versatile, athletic, smart and tough? Feels like a fit.
Alec Lindstrom, Boston College, 6-foot-3, 296 pounds
Like Linderbaum, Lindstrom is a little undersized. But he moves well (5.18-second 40, 7.5-second three-cone) and he's considered an intelligent and highly-motivated player, too. His brother, Chris, was a first-round pick of the Falcons in 2019.
Alec won't be selected that highly. But he's received good coaching through his career and up through his pre-draft training. At his pro day on Friday, he worked out in front of Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh and personnel coordinator Brian Smith.
Lindstrom's fellow linemen Ben Petrula -- who set a school record with an incredible 60 consecutive starts for the Eagles -- is another player the Patriots could consider for their interior late on draft weekend.
Jason Poe, Mercer, 6-feet, 300 pounds
If you're looking for a fun way to kill a few minutes, go find Poe's highlight tape from last season. Not only does it feature him bowling over fellow Division II athletes with ease, it shows him going to work against Alabama and more than holding his own. His thirst for contact is apparent, as is his ridiculous athleticism.
Considered not draftable prior to his pro day at Georgia -- where he shared the facility with some certified freaks of nature -- his test numbers have evaluators re-thinking their approach with him. He's not Mason, but physically he's remarkably similar.
Darian Kinnard, Kentucky, 6-foot-5, 322 pounds
Kinnard has played almost exclusively at right tackle the last few seasons for the Wildcats, but in all likelihood he'll end up as a guard at the next level. His size and physicality would seem to fit what the Patriots love, the only question would be if (along with Onwenu) they would ever try to operate up front with two massive guards on the interior. Typically they like athletes inside, and Kinnard doesn't necessarily fit that profile (5.31-second 40, 8.11-second three-cone drill). But his frame is massive -- his playing weight could be 20 pounds heavier than his combine weight -- as are his hands (over 11 inches).
If the Patriots just want to manhandle opponents in the trenches, Kinnard proved in the SEC that he can do exactly that. He was a first-team AP All-American, a first-team All-SEC honoree, and he won the conference's Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the top lineman in the conference last year.
Sean Rhyan, UCLA, 6-foot-5, 321 pounds
Three years of starting experience under Belichick pal Chip Kelly? Someone who could play both tackle and guard at the next level? Huge mitts (over 11-inch hands) and athletic enough (7.55 three-cone drill, 33.5-inch vertical that ranks in the 95th percentile)? Rhyan brings plenty to the table the Patriots would like. He also has loads of eye-opening reps on tape against potential top-10 pick Kayvon Thibodeaux out of Oregon.
Dylan Parham, Memphis, 6-foot-3, 311 pounds
Patriots offensive assistant Joe Judge was in attendance at the Memphis pro day, perhaps to get a better look at one of the most athletic interior linemen in this class. Parham, a four-year starter, has extensive experience at both guard spots as well as right tackle. He also impressed at center at the Senior Bowl despite no in-game experience at that spot for Kentucky.
It's easy to see why he has the ability to move all along the line. He checked in with a 97th percentile 40-yard dash at this year's combine to go along with a 9-0 broad jump. He has NFL-caliber explosiveness, even after gaining weight before his arrival to Indy. His versatility and movement skills make him a logical fit in New England.
Zach Tom, Wake Forest, 6-foot-4, 304 pounds
The Patriots drafted a Wake Forest offensive lineman a few years ago when they landed Justin Herron on Day 3. Tom would likely be taken in a similar range, though he appears to be a much better athlete. He blazed a 4.94-second 40 at the combine to go along with impressive three-cone (7.32 seconds) and shuttle times (4.47 seconds).
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein says Tom possesses "excellent intelligence." He played most recently at tackle for the Demon Deacons, but he looks like a guard or center at the next level. He may be more of a pass-protector than a mauler in the running game, but his traits may be enough for the Patriots to take him and try to mold him into more of a people-mover when going forward.
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Luke Goedeke, Central Michigan, 6-foot-5, 312 pounds
Like Parham, Goedeke was a tight end who converted to the offensive line. Makes sense. Good athletes. But what might be the first thing that catches Bill Belichick's eye would be Goedeke's on-field demeanor. He plays angry and shows good toughness both as a run-blocker and pass-protector.
Goedeke's teammate Bernhard Raimann will be drafted first because of his size and athleticism and his projection as a potential franchise left tackle. But Goedeke may be more ready to go in the NFL as a guard.
Spencer Burford, UTSA, 6-foot-4, 304 pounds
Any time a former Patriots staffer is seen getting a close look at a particular prospect, it's worth noting. That's exactly what happened at UTSA's pro day last week, when Texans general manager Nick Caserio had his eyes on Burford.
A four-star recruit out of high school with almost 35-inch arms, Burford has some interesting traits to function as an athletic guard as a pro. He's coming from a lower level of competition, and there are some questions about his technique. But it can be hard to find good athletes with long arms to protect against interior pass-rushers who seem to get longer by the year.
Logan Bruss, Wisconsin, 6-foot-5, 309 pounds
Bruss has solid change-of-direction ability (7.57-second three-cone, 4.55-second shuttle) that could help him land a spot in New England. He's coming from a program that leaned heavily on a zone running scheme, which isn't exactly how the Patriots are built. But he's powerful enough with big enough hands to latch onto and drive defensive linemen and linebackers.
He also showed he was athletic enough on the edge to mirror pass-rushers like Michigan's David Ojabo and Penn State's Arnold Ebikiete. He's also not afraid to take action when he sees something on the field that needs to be... addressed.
Dawson Deaton, Texas Tech, 6-foot-5, 306 pounds
A quality athlete who -- like Strange -- has some traits that resemble Thuney, Deaton has started at tackle, guard and center at different points during his college career. He's a long and lean prospect, but he packs a punch. A two-year captain, he performed well at the Shrine Bowl and could be a possibility for the Patriots late on draft weekend thanks to his versatility and toughness.