The Patriots are set to return each of their three starters on the interior of the offensive line from 2016: Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and David Andrews. Even their top reserve, Ted Karras, is back in the fold as he's headed into his second season.
Why, then, might Bill Belichick and his front office be looking at guards during the pre-draft process? (And we know they are.)
One doesn't have to dig all that far back into the recesses of their memory to remember when offensive line injuries plagued that unit in 2015 and served as an example of just how critical it is to employ athletic, versatile depth up front.
There's also the Patriots philosophy when it comes to the draft: Pick good players, and the rest will figure itself out.
Last week, director of player personnel Nick Caserio explained it thusly:
"We want to put good football players on our football team. Regardless of position. We've talked in years past about the Solder example. We had Matt Light, Sebastian Vollmer, and we drafted Nate Solder in the first round.
"Did we need a tackle? I mean, I don't know, but he played jumbo tight end and right tackle, which he had never played before his rookie year. Our job and our focus is to try to get good football players, put them on the team, and then as we get them, figure out what to do once we have them here."
Guards and centers? They're not a pressing need, but they're in play this weekend. And the Patriots have a type. If you take a look at some of the interior offensive linemen drafted by the Patriots in the early-to-middle rounds -- particularly lately -- some trends become apparent.
They like players who are about 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 and between 300 and 315 pounds. Shorter arms (32 inches) are OK, though length doesn't hurt. And you have to be a relatively good athlete. Forty-yard dash times of 5.4 seconds or quicker will help, as will a sub-five second 20-yard shuttle and a three-cone drill in the 7.5-second range. If you can jump 26 inches in the vertical, 97 inches in the broad jump and bench 225 pounds 21 times or more . . . all the better.
One exception to the above would be Shaq Mason, who's only 6-foot-1 with 31-inch arms, but he might be the best athlete the Patriots have ever had on the interior. Tre' Jackson is a bit of an anomaly as well since he weighed 330 pounds going into the draft. That hurt his testing numbers somewhat, but his standing was improved by the fact that he came from a pro-style system at Florida State and was coached by Seminoles offensive line coach Rick Trickett.
By and large, if you fit the athletic profile above, if you're smart, tough, and can take coaching, you may have a chance in New England. Here are some of the names we've pegged as prototypical Patriots inside.
Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky, 6-foot-4, 309 pounds: Lamp was a tackle -- and a very good one -- in college, but he'll likely kick inside at the next level because of his length (32-inch arms). Physically and athletically, he's a specimen. He ran the 40 in five seconds flat, broad-jumped 111 inches and ran the three-cone in 7.55 seconds. He also benched 225 pounds 34 times, which was one off the top mark at the combine. The Patriots would need a first-round pick to grab Lamp if they wanted him.
Dan Feeney, Indiana, 6-foot-4, 305 pounds: He's not the headliner for this installment of the Prototypical Patriots series, but maybe he should be. His height, weight, length (33-inch arms) and testing numbers -- 5.24-second 40, 28-inch vertical, 101-inch broad, 4.68-second 20-yard shuttle, 7.52-second three-cone -- are all right where Bill Belichick likes them. He played guard and tackle to help clear space for now-NFL backs Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, and he was only flagged for 10 penalties in three years. Thought to have a good competitive streak, Feeney was solid as a run blocker and excellent in pass protection in college. Per Pro Football Focus, he allowed only two sacks, four hits and 19 quarterback hurries in 1,239 pass-block snaps at guard over the last three years. He might require a second-round pick if the Patriots are interested.
Dion Dawkins, Temple, 6-foot-4, 314 pounds: If the Patriots are interested in linemen who've played in a pro-style offense, Dawkins may be among those at the top of their list. He played tackle for the Owls, but looks like a guard at the NFL level and played well there in the Senior Bowl. He has tackle-type length (35-inch arms) and is a very good athlete for his size (5.11-second 40, 26-inch vertical, 106-inch broad jump, 7.3-second three-cone, 4.78-second 20-yard shuttle). Caserio was at his pro day, but he's another who looks like a second-rounder.
Nico Siragusa, San Diego State, 6-foot-4, 319 pounds: He's a little heavier than most others the Patriots have selected at this position in the past, but Siragusa's still up to snuff athletically. He ran a 5.35 40-yard dash, jumped 32 inches in the vertical and clocked a 7.71-second three-cone drill. Experts say he's a highly-effective pull-blocker, and he's strong enough to hold up against defensive tackles in pass protection.
Isaac Asiata, Utah, 6-foot-3, 323 pounds: Another heavier-than-the norm guard, Asiata was able to combine his tremendous power (a combine-best 35 bench reps of 225 pounds) with impressive testing numbers in Indianapolis. His vertical (25.5 inches) isn't quite where previous Patriots have hit, but his broad jump (102 inches), 40-yard dash (5.34 second), three-cone (7.83 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.93 seconds) all make the grade despite the fact that he's carrying more weight than predecessors who've landed in Foxboro. Asiata is a force in the run game, especially while on the move, and he seems to be plenty comfortable in the passing game. He was one of 30 players the Patriots hosted at Gillette Stadium for a pre-draft visit. He should be available when they're on the clock at No. 72 overall.
Jermaine Eluemunor, Texas A&M, 6-foot-4, 332 pounds: OK now we're delving into bigger-isn't-always-better territory, but good gracious is Eluemunor athletic. Explosive (28.5-inch vertical, 103-inch broad jump) and agile (7.63-second three-cone, 4.85 20-yard shuttle), he'll have to clean up some technique, but there just aren't many humans his size who can move the way he can. Perhaps with the opportunity at a red-shirt year in New England, Dante Scarnecchia can mold him into a player.
Aviante Collins, TCU, 6-foot-4, 295 pounds: The fastest offensive lineman at this year's combine (4.81-second 40), Collins has plenty in the way of athleticism to compete for a role on the interior in New England. He also posted 34 reps of 225 pounds, and you don't have to watch him long to notice his eagerness to lock onto defenders. A tackle in college, he seems more physically suited to play guard at the next level.
Ethan Pocic, LSU, 6-foot-6, 310 pounds: The Patriots were willing to invest in a big center three seasons ago when they draft Stork (6-foot-4 in the fourth round). Might they be willing to take on a pivot who looks like he could play power forward? Pocic is incredibly long for the position, but he might be the best in this year's class. He actually played some tackle in college, providing some of the versatility that the Patriots appreciate from their linemen. Though it may seem like it takes some time for Pocic's levers to get moving, he's a very good athlete. He ran a 5.15-second 40 and a 4.81-second 20-yard shuttle.
Chase Roullier, Wyoming, 6-foot-4, 312 pounds: If the Patriots are looking for another versatile guard/center option, Roullier wouldn't be a bad match. He may not play like the athlete his testing numbers indicated he is (7.6-second three-cone, 4.47-second 20-yard shuttle), but he's an experienced run-blocker solid in pass protection. He received solid grades from those at PFF, ranking near the top of the class in terms of his pass-blocking efficiency (fifth), which compares quarterback disruptions against the number of pass-protection snaps a player has played.