The retirement of the New England Patriots‘ 2020 7th-round draft pick Dustin Woodard didn’t last a full calendar year. According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the 6’2″ 291-pound center out of Memphis has been reinstated to the active roster.
Patriots 2020 7th round pick Dustin Woodward – a Center out of Memphis that retired shortly after being drafted – has been reinstated to the active roster.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 7, 2021
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In August 2020, Woodard retired from football.
While it may have seemed Woodard’s decision to walk away from the sport was related to the pandemic and concerns of playing in an uncertain situation, that wasn’t the case. According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Woodard’s decision was unrelated to COVID-19 and instead about the player losing a desire to continue to play football.
As @TomPelissero and @globejimmcbride reported, Patriots seventh-round pick Dustin Woodard (Memphis) has decided to retire. This wasn’t related to COVID-19, according to those familiar with his thinking; simply more a result of losing the desire to keep playing football.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 13, 2020
Woodard has shifted gears, and his decision adds even more depth to a Patriots offensive line that seems to get deeper every week. This addition is less about a savvy move and more about the team’s good fortune to potentially add a player without drafting or recruiting him through free agency.
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Talent Evaluators Insist Woodard Has Great Upside
Woodard was a favorite of CLNS’ Evan Lazar, who says the 23-year-old fits the mold of players the Patriots like at the center position. He likens him to current starter David Andrews because of his mobility.
Some Dustin Woodard tape from last year’s draft. #Patriots https://t.co/GF7KV2uqWh
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 7, 2021
Dustin Woodard can play. Similar athletic profile as David Andrews coming out. Undersized, athletic center prospect. This is good news for the #Patriots. https://t.co/hG3vgcJR15
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 7, 2021
As Zack Cox of NESN points out, Woodard showed excellent versatility with 14 or more starts at three different O-line positions while in college.
Here’s my deep dive from last year on center Dustin Woodard, who showed a ton of versatility at Memphis. He’s unretiring and rejoining the Patriots roster, per @FieldYates. https://t.co/arZw6xz2Yw
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) April 7, 2021
While some may look at this news and quickly dismiss it because Woodard was just a seventh-round pick, it’s important to note how many times excellent O-lineman are found late in the draft. Look no further than the 2020 draft when the Patriots found Mike Onwenu and Justin Herron in the sixth round.
Onwenu was one of the best offensive linemen in football in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus, and Herron played a ton of snaps in relief at tackle. Woodard won’t go into camp as the starter, but it’s always wise to have depth at every position–especially on the offensive line.
Patriots’ O-Line Depth
So far this offseason, the Patriots have traded for offensive tackle Trent Brown, re-signed Andrews to start at center, and signed Ted Karras back to swing between center and guard as needed. Now Woodard is back in the mix as an option on the interior offensive line.
Add that to what most expect to be an even better second season for Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, and the underrated, near-Pro-Bowl-level play of Shaq Mason, and the Patriots have a formidable O-line group.
If there is still room for some improvement on the line, it could be at tackle. Wynn was solid, but the Patriots might be inclined to consider drafting a potential bookend at the position at No. 15 if they don’t go chasing after a quarterback in the first round and aren’t taken with one of the wide receivers, cornerbacks, or linebackers available.
In any case, Cam Newton and the Patriots’ running backs should have good support upfront in 2021.