Arguably one of the most important jobs in all of Foxboro is protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. And during Brady’s illustrious Hall of Fame career only two men have been entrusted to do that. Matt Light (2001-2011) & Nate Solder (2012-2017.) And now with Solder gone (signed as a UFA with the NY Giants) someone new must step in at Left Tackle and keep the franchise safe. Starting NFL caliber Left Tackles don’t come easy and they don’t come cheap. Which means if the Patriots want to find such a player they’re going to have to do it early in the 2018 NFL Draft.
A 6’5″, 320lbs left tackle from the University of Texas could be the answer to the Patriots prayers. Connor Williams, a three year starter for the Longhorns, is entering the draft after an injury shortened junior season and he could be available at pick #23. Williams is the second best offensive tackle available in the draft behind Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey who will be gone in the top-15, so the Longhorn makes a ton of sense for New England.
Williams is often compared to Atlanta’s Jake Matthews, and the Patriots would love to have a player at left tackle that is that reliable. Matthews has started nearly every game for the Falcons in his career with just one game missed in 2014 as a rookie. Williams, though marred with injury in 2017, was that kind of player at Texas. He made an impact on campus immediately as a freshman, starting all 12 games for the Longhorns. The floor for him seems to be as a starter in the NFL, but he has Pro Bowl and All-Pro capabilities. A strong NFL Combine proved it.
Why he fits the Patriots
Lots of Patriots fans loved to hate on Solder, but they all woke up when they realized he could leave as a free agent this offseason. When he did just that, the panic began to set in. Connor Williams would be able to step in right away to help the aging Tom Brady to another MVP season.
Right now the Patriots are very thin at the tackle position with only one proven starter in Marcus Cannon, who is more comfortable on the right side. LaAdrian Waddle is currently the clubhouse leader to replace Solder with a few depth guys (Tony Garcia, Cole Croston, Andrew Jelks and newly signed Matt Tobin) in the mix as well.
Williams carries his weight well and is one of the hardest workers in the weight room. He has always been viewed as a locker room leader, and the Patriots love that type of character that is often not something that can be created. Williams is fluid and will redirect his blocks to exactly the place they need to be, and once he gets his hands on a defender he will maintain that block for a long time. There’s no work to be done with his hand placement at all, which Patriots line coach Dante Scarnecchia would be very pleased with.
Where he needs to improve
Some of the knocks on Williams are things that cannot be changed, such as his lack of length. Other things though could be fixed in the Patriots training camp over the summer. Williams sometimes struggles with the bull rush initially as he gets straight-legged and forced back. Scarnecchia would be able to work with that.
Williams may also need to improve his core strength, but he has no problem getting into the weight room. An NFL strength and conditioning program, slightly altering his current workouts, would allow for him to build that strength.
Likelihood the Pats grab him
Connor Williams did not look like a first round player in 2017, but his 2016 tape has kept him in the round. The 2017 film is what will push him towards the bottom of the round though, with the Patriots having a great chance to scoop him up at #23. Mike McGlinchey will be off the board already, possibly at #15 to the Arizona Cardinals, but beyond that there are not tons of teams with a need for a tackle before the Patriots pick.
New England hosted Williams on April 11th, so there certainly is some interest and belief that he will be available. Connor is not a player that the Patriots should trade up for if they feel he will be off the board before #23, but he’s worth the pick in that spot. The 2018 draft class lacks elite offensive tackle talent, so New England won’t reach. They still could end up with a solid replacement for Solder ahead of the 2018 season though.