While the needs vary each year, the NFL Draft brings hope and optimism to every single franchise. Many view this hope as being for the fortunes of the franchise and in a lot of ways they are correct. New faces to the organization can spark championship dreams. But there is another kind of hope that needs to be discussed. The hope is that player lives up to the standards set before him by those who once stood in his shoes for the franchise. According to numerous reports, including Pro Football Focus, the New England Patriots need help at offensive tackle. Let's take a look at their illustrious history of the position and the standards that have already been set.
For much of their early history, the Patriots had a quiet upbringing, never boasting of any really big names on their roster. The same could be said of their offensive line as they struggled in those early years to find any real consistency among the hogs. The first offensive tackle to stay longer than three years with the Patriots was Tom Neville. A right tackle who joined the franchise in 1965, he stayed with the team through 1977 and was an AFL All-Star in 1966.
In 1973, the Patriots inserted Leon Gray in as their right guard, but by the following year, they moved him to left tackle, lining him up next to Hall of Famer John Hannah. They were an excellent duo and Gray earned two Pro Bowl invitations and one All-Pro nod while in New England. In 1979, they helped pave the way for the Patriot's record-breaking ground attack, rushing for 3,125 yards. That record stood until the Ravens broke it in 2019.
That was Leon Gray's final year in New England as he moved to Houston the following year where he remained a Pro Bowler. The Patriots found Brian Holloway to fill his shoes a few years later and Holloway proved to be more than adequate. In six years as the Patriots left tackle, he was invited to three Pro Bowls.
When Holloway's time was up with the franchise, the Patriots moved Bruce Armstrong over from right to left tackle. He proved to be exactly what the Patriots needed at the position as he earned six Pro Bowl invitations while protecting the quarterback's blindside.
When Armstrong retired in 2000, the Patriots drafted his replacement out of Purdue University in 2001. Matt Light would soon be a fan favorite and really lived up to his name as an individual by always keeping the moment light. Despite his small 6'4" stature, he played well as he went to three Pro Bowls and was once named All-Pro before retiring after losing to the Giants in the 2011 Super Bowl. He went out in style too, as he was seen dancing the night away at a party after the devastating loss.
In the years after Matt Light's retirement, the team has had some success with his replacements, but none of those replacements have provided what the team surely desires: longevity. Matt Light is the last offensive lineman to play for the Patriots for 10 years or more.
That doesn't mean that they haven't found success in his replacements. During their most recent run of dominance, they've featured players such as Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder and Trent Brown. What's interesting about each of these players is that they are all 6'8". Perhaps the Patriots have valued height a bit more this past decade.
Here is where we stand. Trent Brown is set to enter free agency after this year and 34-year-old Riley Reiff struggled with the Bears last year. Who will the Patriots draft? Will they take Northwestern's Peter Skoronski? We shall see this weekend.