NFL.com thinks more highly of New England Patriots offensive lineman Michael Onwenu than his coaching staff–at least that’s how it seems. Nick Shook of NFL.com ranked Onwenu as one of the best players in the NFL, 25 years old or younger.
Surely a player recognized on such an esteemed list by a writer on the league’s own website would be a key cog in what his team does offensively, right?
The answer to that question isn’t as clear as one might expect.
After a sterling rookie season in 2020 )that saw the 6-foot-3, 350-pounder register an 84.3 grade with Pro Football Focus) Onwenu, a sixth-round pick out of Michigan, was used mostly as a swing offensive lineman in 2021.
With the departure of long-time guard Shaq Mason in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, it appeared Onwneu would get his chance to shine and start. That may happen once the season gets underway, but early on in training camp, Onwenu has been splitting time with veteran James Ferentz.
According to Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels, Ferentz, and Arlington Hambright have been “rotating” and “playing some reps at right guard in place of Onwenu.”
Is Onwenu Better Than Ferentz?
No evidence would support that concept, but many may wonder why Ferentz, a journeyman O-lineman for all intent and purpose, would be rotating in with Onwenu. Perhaps the splitting of reps with Hambright is even more perplexing.
Hambright signed a futures deal with the Patriots in January, so it isn’t as if he’s come to camp as a highly touted prospect or an established veteran. Is Onwenu’s conditioning an issue?
That’s a valid question considering how grueling the heat can be during training camp, and Onwenu is a big man. Back in August 2020, just before the start of his rookie season, Onwenu trimmed down to 344 pounds, per Patriots.com’s Evan Lazar:
For the record, no local media member who has been present for training camp practices has commented on Ownenu’s weight or conditioning.
What is Onwenu’s Best Position on the Offensive Line Long Term?
Onwenu was forced to play tackle to deal with a rash of injuries as a rookie, and he saw action there in 2021 as well because of the same situations. Despite being drafted as a guard and projected by most to play that position, Onwenu has played most of his snaps in the NFL at tackle.
Here is a breakdown of where Onwenu has played during his two-year career by snap counts, per PFF:
- Left Tackle: 0
- Left Guard: 402
- Center: 0
- Right Guard: 187
- Right Tackle: 892
- Inline Tight End: 92
The versatility has been excellent, but Onwenu will likely reach his full potential when and if he can settle into one role. It would seem Onwenu can be an upper-echelon NFL player at either guard spot, but like many O-Lineman in the NFL, there is a good chance he continues to be shuffled around to meet the team’s needs.
It would seem the Patriots’ ideal offensive line in 2022 would be Isaiah Wynn, Onwenu, David Andrews, rookie Cole Strange, and Trent Brown. If everyone is healthy, that will still likely be the starters in front of Mac Jones.
If they can all remain mostly healthy, we could see a special year from Onwenu and the O-Line overall.
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