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It seems like ages ago now, but there was a time in the not so distant past when offensive line issues threatened to submarine the 2014 Patriots season. The August trade of mainstay Logan Mankins had left a gaping hole at left guard, one which the Patriots struggled to fill for over a month. To jog your memory, Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey started at guard in Week One's embarrassing performance against the Dolphins, a loss fueled by poor offensive line play. The rest of the month followed as such, with poor pass protection crippling Tom Brady's ability to run a tight ship on offense. The lineup solidified once Bryan Stork established himself at center, allowing the team to move veterans Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell to guard. However, Connolly remains unsigned as a free agent and expecting Wendell to maintain that level of play at guard appears to be a risky projection.

Even if the Pats did have their starting five returning, there would be a need to upgrade. Their competition in the AFC East has certainly noticed that nothing slows Brady faster than quick pressure up the middle, as all three teams have invested heavily in their defensive lines. The Pats already had to face Marcel Dareus/Kyle Williams and Sheldon Richardson/Damon Harrison/Muhhamad Wilkerson twice a year, and now are also tasked with blocking both Cameron Wake and Ndamakong Suh on the Dolphins defensive front. Counting on internal development of lesser known prospects like Josh Kline to face those kind of monsters would be a big mistake. There's a clearly a need to counter the divisions moves by investing in the interior of the offensive line, something the club seems to have acknowledged by sending Dante Scarnecchia to seemingly every top guard prospect's Pro Day this spring.

One of the prospects the Pats have spent a lot of time on is Florida State's Tre Jackson. A unanimous All American selection in 2014, Jackson's steady play was a big part of the Seminole's 27-1 two year run. At 6'4" and 330 pounds, Jackson has prototype size and power for the position. It would be a stretch to describe him as "fleet footed", but Jackson is also the most mobile of the top "power guard" prospects in this years class (a group that also includes AJ Cann and Laken Tomlinson). The big man succeeded in Florida State's pro style offense, which often called for him to pull, reach and seal off moving targets at the next level. Couple that with his ability to anchor in pass protection and you have a prospect capable of starting from day one on the interior.

Measurables:

Ht: 6'4"
Wt: 330
Arm length: 32 5/8"
Hands: 10 7/8"
40 time: 5.52
Vert: 25"
Broad jump: 96"
Bench press: 20 reps
3 cone drill: 8.4
20 yard shuffle 5.3

College statistics:
2011 (Fr): Played sparingly as a freshman before making first start in Champs Sports Bowl win over Notre Dame, missed 5 games with a groin injury  
2012 (So): Started all 14 games as a sophomore, earned second team All ACC honors  
2013 (Jr): Started 14 of 15 games as a junior (missed one game with an ankle injury), earned first team All ACC honors  
2014 (Sr): Started all 14 games as senior, earned first team All ACC, unanimous All America and South Team MVP (Senior Bowl) honors

Professional comparison:

NFL.com compares Jackson to former Falcon and current free agent Justin Blalock. The two have remarkably similar measurables (Blalock is listed at 6'4" and 326 pounds), and Jackson would certainly be happy replicating Blalock's steady nine year career, in which he's started 125 of a possible 128 games.



Strengths:
  • Ideal size and length for position
  • Ability to anchor against bull rush
  • Balanced with good footwork in pass protection
  • Can use mass and length to engulf smaller defenders
  • Aggressive, powerful run blocker
  • Ability to pull and seal off second level defenders
  • Smart: was able to pick up complex blitz packages
  • Durable: started 42 of 43 games over past three seasons 
  • Viewed by scouts as being coachable
Weaknesses:
  • Could be in better shape; excess weight affects his foot speed
  • Limited in space
  • Inconsistent technique
  • Didn't dominate at expected level as a senior; at times merely occupied defenders rather than driving them back
  • High school ACL tear on his medical records
Projection: Middle to late second, early third round

There were rumblings prior to the 2014 season that Jackson could elevate himself into the first round discussion with a dominant season. While he was very good in 2014, he didn't quite stand out enough on tape to make that kind of leap. However, Jackson appears to be amongst the consensus top pure guards in this years draft, joining South Carolina's AJ Cann and Duke's Laken Tomlinson. It would be shocking if any of those three go in the first round, but all can safely expect to hear their name called on Day 2. There's little league-wide consensus on how to rank those three, so predicting how early or late in Day 2 Jackson will be available appears to be a hapless cause.

Will the Patriots draft him?

The amount of homework they've already done on him suggests there's real consideration at this point. They met with him at the combine, sent Scarnecchia to his Pro Day, and have reportedly scheduled him for one of their 30 private workouts prior to the draft. There's already a lot of smoke here, and he'd find himself in a familiar system playing alongside his former teammate in Stork if drafted by New England. That familiarity, along with his mobility advantage, makes Jackson a better scheme fit than Cann or Tomlinson in my opinion.

Of course, none of this means it's a guarantee Jackson will wind up a Patriot. As always, plenty will depend on how the draft board shapes up as other teams make their selections. If they stay pat at pick 64 in the second round, they'll find themselves hoping that this draft's depth at other positions (WR, OT etc) pushes one of the top guard prospects into their range. With five picks in the top 101, the Pats will have the ammo to leapfrog a team to land their man if it comes down to that. Trading down from their first round pick could also put them in a realistic range to land Jackson will continuing to stockpile more draft picks.

Ned Brady 4/22/2015 02:21:00 PM Edit
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