Patriots rookie OL Michael Onwenu becoming team’s best draft pick in years

The Patriots didn’t know what they had in sixth-round rookie offensive lineman Michael Onwenu.
Had they, he might instead have become first-round rookie Michael Onwenu.
This season, the Michigan product has started all 15 games and currently rates as the seventh-best offensive tackle in football, per Pro Football Focus player grades. Playing a new position at right tackle, Onwenu has dominated as a run blocker and allowed fewer than one pressure per game. The 23-year-old will be a precious piece of the Pats’ foundation moving forward, given his versatility and All-Pro potential.
It was his raw talent, at 6-foot-3 and 344 pounds, that first caught the team’s eye. Onwenu crushed 1-on-1s early in training camp, stonewalling his teammates with rare strength with improved foot quickness. This was no ordinary late-round lineman.
So at the start of one practice in August, Bill Belichick approached Onwenu, a college guard, to say he’d be moving temporarily to offensive tackle. Since then — save for the times Onwenu successfully filled in as an injury replacement at left or right guard — the switch has been permanent. Playing tackle is a cinch for the rookie, who said he hasn’t been surprised by his NFL experience.
“I would say it’s been what I expected in terms of being harder than college, obviously,” Onwenu said. “A lot, a lot better athletes and a lot of different stuff defensively. So I think it’s matched my expectations.”
Belichick shared Wednesday the Pats initially believed Onwenu would be competing to make the roster as a backup guard. But once Onwenu proved he was among the team’s five best offensive linemen, he forced himself onto the field. With left guard Joe Thuney, the team’s best O-lineman, set to hit free agency again this offseason, it’s possible Onwenu could replace him long-term.
Or simply stick as the team’s starting right tackle.
“We’ll just have to take a look at that here at the end of the season and see where things are next year and have some kind of a plan,” Belichick said. “Maybe it’s some kind of combination of both. I don’t know, but he’s opened a lot of doors and opportunities for himself.”
Thuney, a former third-rounder and Pro Bowl caliber player, is widely viewed as the team’s best draft pick of the past 5-6 years. The Patriots extended themselves to keep Thuney from leaving last March by slapping him with a $14.7 million franchise tag at the dawn of free agency. This spring, during a franchise-defining rebuild, they won’t necessarily need to extend again, thanks to Onwenu, their new best draft pick in recent team history.

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