ORG-C-FB Dan Connolly, #63
New England Patriots
Height: 6-3 1/4 Weight: 312 Speed: 5.16
Notes: Started all four years in college at Southeast Missouri State, his first three at right tackle before swinging to the left as a senior. Was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005 and earned a roster spot as a backup. Was placed on injured reserve prior to the season in ’06 and waived by the Jaguars on Sept. 1, 2007. Was claimed by the New England Patriots 11 days later, where he initially found a home on the practice squad in ’07. Was cut by the team on Oct. 20, 2008, signed to the practice squad two days later and was elevated to the active roster on Dec. 14, 2008, playing in the season finale. He replaced an injured Stephen Neal in the starting lineup for four games at right guard in ’09. Saw action at both guard spots in ’10, when he started 13-of-14 games, contributed as a lead-blocking fullback in goal-line situations and entered the NFL record books by setting the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman (71 yards) vs. Green Bay. Started 14-of-16 games in which he played in ’11 at center in place of an injured Dan Koppen, whom he eventually unseated. Suffered a head injury in the 2012 season opener against Tennessee and did not play the following week. Has started the past five games at right guard.
Positives: Extremely tough and gritty — plays through the whistle and his finishing effort stands out on tape. Very good balance and body control for a big man. Comes off the ball flat-backed in the run game and has a strong lower body to generate movement off the ball. Works up to the second level under control and creates good fits on linebackers. Nice girth to anchor in pass protection and can handle mammoth cloggers — is not easily moved and seldom inverted. Powerful punch. Smart, versatile, hardworking and highly competitive. Very assignment-sound.
Negatives: Has average arm length (32 inches) and can be outflanked by speed. Can be overaggressive seeking to bury defenders into the ground and can do a better job of staying square to the line and avoid getting overextended going for the kill shot. Too often locks his legs and blocks straight-legged, negating his power base and explosion. Average lateral quickness and agility. Can do a better job of consistently replacing his hands.
Summary: After losing Matt Light, Brian Waters and Dan Koppen, the Patriots’ offensive line needed some time to jell and slowed the offense early in the season. However, it has shown collective improvement in recent weeks. Connolly has all the qualities sought in Patriots offensive linemen — intelligence, toughness, versatility and competitiveness. Has been a vastly underrated key cog who consistently grades out very highly and gets the job done, even if he does not always look pretty doing so.