The Patriots have questions at the guard position and they need to address that area in either free agency or the draft. Considering the amount of money the Patriots will have to invest into their own free agents, it makes sense to look for guards/interior offensive lineman in the draft to keep their number one offensive asset upright. A.J. Cann of South Carolina is the type of player the Patriots covet and he may be their target in Round One of the NFL Draft.
A.J. Cann had an excellent career at the University of South Carolina after a dominant high school career at Bamberg Ehrhardt High School in South Carolina. Cann redshirted his freshman year in 2010, but from 2011 to 2014, Cann only missed one start. As a redshirt freshman, Cann started every game and was voted as a First-Team Freshman All-American by College Football News and CBS Sports.com. In 2012, Cann started 12 of 13 games, missing his one career start vs. Florida. Although Cann was named to Phil Steele's third team Midseason All-SEC, it was clearly not as strong a performance as his freshman year.
In 2013, Cann returned to form and not only started every game again, he was also named a permanent team captain as a junior, a very rare occurrence. Cann showed run blocking ability that will allow him to succeed at the NFL level. In 2014, Cann's senior year, everything came together. Cann was named First-Team All-American by Sporting News, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, and he was also voted All Second-Team by the AP and Sports Illustrated.
Cann has a strong frame for an offensive lineman, and he is also very flexible in the lower body, which allows him to quickly get out of his stance, which he is very comfortable in. Cann is not a "waistbender" which is a good sign for his future in the NFL. Cann finishes his blocks very well and plays until the whistle blows. That might not seem like that big of a deal, but when you have to deal with a guy all day and he's continuously burying you, it gets very frustrating. Cann has done this to opponents for the last four years. When Cann does occasionally get overpowered or beat out of his stance, he recovers quickly and never quits on a play.
Most scouts believe that Cann is more suited for a power scheme than a zone-blocking scheme because he isn't the best athlete. He is young so his athleticism and training will improve, so with the right NFL coaching, he should be able to flourish in any system he ends up in. Cann needs to improve his pass blocking also and he needs to stay engaged the whole game; he occasionally loses his mean streak. Cann is a guard only, so he doesn't have the flexibility many coaches covet. Flexibility is great, but if Cann improves in the NFL like he did at South Carolina, he's going to have an excellent career in the pro's.