The first day at the NFL Combine interview room featured a position group that likely isn't a top priority for the Patriots this draft season.
Although head coach Bill Belichick is unpredictable, New England is set along the defensive line for next season and has more significant needs to address early in the draft. Plus, this year's middle linebacker class is not very talent-rich where the Pats will pick in the first round.
Instead, the highlight from a Patriots perspective was the draft's top pass-rushers discussing the toughest matchups they had with opposing offensive tackles. The Pats selecting an offensive tackle in the first round is the current favorite in terms of the position they'll target on day one. With top options such as Broderick Jones, Paris Johnson, and Peter Skoronski, among others, it's a good year to need an OT.
Potential number one overall pick Will Anderson told Patriots.com that a popular draft riser was the best tackle he faced during Alabama's 2022 season. According to Anderson, Tennessee right tackle Darnell Wright was his stiffest competition.
"Darnell Wright from Tennessee, my sophomore year to my junior year, he had gotten way better," Anderson said on Wednesday morning. "Very athletic, can bend, can re-trace with his steps. If he gets off balance, he can sit down on powers, so it was really exciting going against him this year. He was really great."
Wright has skyrocketed up the board into the first round conversation due to his tremendous performance against Anderson and other future NFLers at the Senior Bowl back in January. Anderson only logged two quarterback pressures and was held without a sack when he went against Wright, one of his least productive games of the season.
Along with Anderson praising his rival on the Volunteers, Kansas State's Felix Anudike-Uzomah offered his perspective by saying Oklahoma left tackle Anton Harrison was his toughest test. Anudike-Uzomah, an intriguing long and fluid hand-in-the-dirt defensive end, is a projected day-two draft choice.
Harrison is rarely discussed among the consensus top three tackles we mentioned initially, but Oklahoma's left tackle started for three seasons on the left side. As Anudike-Uzomah pointed out, Harrison has arguably the best foot speed and balance in this class to project as an early-career starter at left tackle. The Oklahoma product is a fringe-first rounder but should be on New England's fans' radar as the process continues.
There's also a growing consensus that Ohio State's starting tackles, Paris Johnson (left) and Dawand Jones (right), won't last long when April's draft comes around. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday morning, fellow Buckeye Zach Harrison was bullish about his teammates, who he faced daily in practice over the years in Columbus.
"Paris is a dawg. Paris is going to be one of those perennial left tackles for a long time in the league. One, the work ethic. And he's a freak. A dude that big should not be that athletic and that strong. Going against him every single day, I know the kind of work that he puts in. He never takes a day off, never takes a play off," Harrison said of Johnson.
The Buckeyes edge rusher continued about Jones, "he's a behemoth, just a huge person. But as big as he is, he's athletic. He's quick. He's going to be one of those guys that's in the league for a long time playing at a high level. He's a technician. You walk by him in the hallway, and he's always watching some of other offensive linemen and trying to take pieces of their game, and he's always trying to talk to me and figure out what I see and what I don't like going against so he can start doing it in his game. Both of those guys are special players."
Lastly, another highly sought-after prospect is Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski. Skoronski may project inside to guard for some teams due to his body type, but he was a stud for the Wildcats at left tackle as a multi-year starter with excellent technique and smarts. With the two Big Ten programs facing off against one another every season, Iowa defensive end Lukas Van Ness spoke about his duels with Skoronski as two likely first-round talents.
"Every time we had a game against Northwestern, his name was circled. We always have good competition against each other. He's a great player. I knew every week I had to be ready when we played him," the Hawkeyes defensive end said.
If the Patriots target offensive tackles in the early rounds, the glowing reviews their opponents and teammates offered at the combine should make fans feel good about selecting one of the draft's many attractive options.
We'll hear from this year's offensive tackle class on Saturday afternoon with workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this Sunday.
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