Patriots Rookie Gets Eye-Popping Grade

Getty Michael Onwenu

The New England Patriots‘ rookie offensive lineman Michael Onwenu was selected in the sixth round. However, the powerful guard out of Michigan has received rave reviews all season. In fact, Pro Football Focus has him designated as the highest-rated rookie in the NFL this season, and one of the best players at his or any position through the first nine weeks of the 2020 campaign.

Onwenu Tops Vikings’ Young Star

PFF grades every player in the NFL for every single play in each game. Some may disagree with their philosophy at times, but it has proven to be one of the more reliable gauges for individual excellence and futility in the league.

Onwenu is just a touch ahead of the Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and has an even larger advantage over Antonio Gibson and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow. In all honesty, Burrow has the toughest job of all because he’s playing the most impacting position, but still, take nothing away from the other guys who have a higher overall grade at this point.

Onwenu Has Shown the Ability to Play Multiple Positions

The Patriots have hit the jackpot with Onwenu. The way he has played, he would have been a good pick if he were taken in the first or second round. To have gotten him in the sixth round only accentuates the greatness of the pick. Because the Patriots haven’t had a ton of successful draft pick stories in recent years, this one is especially satisfying. Onwenu may be on pace to break the Patriots’ drought for drafting a Pro-Bowler.

One of the best things about Onwenu–in addition to his impressive power–is his versatility. So far this season, he has played guard and tackle, and it’s that plug-in ability that has been especially solid for a team like New England that has had its share of issues with injuries on that unit.

Onwenu May Make Someone Expendable in the Offseason

Onwenu’s emergence could expedite someone’s exit on the current roster. Joe Thuney has been a consistent and excellent performer for the past several years in New England. However, he is playing on the franchise tag for this season. There was talk he’d be traded at the deadline, but the Patriots didn’t pull the trigger on a move.

That said, most doubt he’ll be back in 2021. The amount of money it would take to re-sign him figures to be steep–even with the lower salary cap totals headed for the NFL in 2021. Because of that, and Onwenu’s youth and strong play, it seems more likely the Patriots would allow Thuney to walk and Bill Belichick would simply plug the former into the spot without missing a beat–at least theoretically.

For now, the Patriots have what most would describe as a good problem. With the surprising Jermaine Eluemunor returning to the lineup for Sunday night’s battle with his former team the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots now have multiple healthy offensive linemen available, and that means someone who has started a significant number of games is going to be headed for a reserve role.

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