Offensive line is an area that always needs to be focused on in every draft, simply because it is such a tough position to play, and the shelf life of an NFL offensive lineman can be VERY short. The Patriots have always been ahead of the curve, selecting linemen in almost every draft, and always signing more undrafted free agents to not only create competition, but to find a few diamonds in the rough. This draft they decided to not only draft a lineman, but to target a specific tackle out of Troy. That tackle is 6'7, 302 pound Antonio Garcia, a player that has shown terrific athleticism for a tackle and could be the replacement for impending free agent Nate Solder, who will be 29 when the 2017 season begins. Typically the Patriots don't give long-term deals to 30-year old offensive lineman, and that is exactly what Solder will be in April of 2018.
Garcia played his high school days at Charles R. Drew High School in Riverdale, Georgia. He was the first athlete in the history of the school to be named All-State; he was also named 1st Team All-Southern Crescent, 1st Team All-Metro, and 1st Team All-Region. Garcia also played basketball, averaging 12 points, being named Honorable Mention All-Region while helping lead his team to the State Finals. Garcia wasn't heavily recruited, in fact he was only on the radar of Troy, and that is where he committed as he signed his Letter of Intent on February 1, 2012. He would be redshirted for a year before he finally got a chance to show what he could do.
As a redshirt freshman, Garcia started the first six games, but he suffered an injury that cost him the remainder of the 2013 season. Troy had a great year on offense, which he was a big part of during the first half of the season. Personally, Garcia had 10.5 knockdown blocks on 381 snaps, and he also was part of a unit that helped lead running back Jordan Chunn to 14 touchdowns and Freshman All-America honors. As a team, Troy' offensive line finished second in the Sun Belt, 35th nationally with just 19 sacks allowed, a number that may have been better if Garcia wasn't lost for the second half of the year. Garcia proved he was worthy of the scholarship he received from Troy, and now he was starting to open eyes at the pro level.
His RS-sophomore year was a strong year for Garcia as he started all 12 games at left tackle for the Trojans. He played 630 snaps, led the team with 35 knockdown blocks, and he only allowed 2.5 sacks. Garcia made a big leap at the end of the season, grading out above 90% over the course of the final four games. Troy' offensive line was excellent in 2014, protecting quarterback Brandon Silvers, who set the record for completion percentage by a freshman at 70.5%. In two seasons as a left tackle, Garcia helped lead a freshman skill player to a record-setting season; that is not a coincidence.
Garcia continued his streak of games started, extending it to 24 games at the completion of the 2015 season, his RS-junior year. Garcia just kept getting better, being name to the All-Sun Belt Team as an Honorable Mention. Garcia played 780 snaps, allowing three sacks while recording an impressive 33 knockdown blocks. His best game of the season came against the best competition; he didn't allow a single sack, picked up four knockdown blocks, and finished with a 90 grade versus Mississippi State. Once again he helped lead the versatile Troy offense, paving the way for Brandon Burks to run for over 1,000 yards, and protecting enough to help lead the Trojans to a second place ranking in sacks allowed.
In 2016, Garcia officially proved he was a legit NFL prospect. He didn't allow a single sack, and that was in over 900 snaps. The Troy offensive line only allowed NINE sacks in 2016, good for the top ranking in the country. Garcia also exploded physically, making 70 knockdown blocks, blocks that helped Jordan Chunn run for over 1,000 yards. Garcia was the leader of an offensive line that paved the way to 429.6 yards per game and 33.7 points per game. Once again, Garcia had a huge game against an extremely talented National Champion team in Clemson, grading out with a 90 and recording six knockdown blocks. He also had a monster game against Idaho and Appalachian State, two more teams with nine wins. He was named 2016 All-Sun Belt First Team in 2016, the first time he received this honor in his college career.
Garcia was projected as a 2nd Round pick leading up to the draft, but he slipped and the Patriots pounced on him. When you look at Garcia and his body type, it's easy to be reminded of Nate Solder when he was coming out of Colorado. Solder was a tight end converted to tackle that needed to keep weight on or he would have issues. Obviously it has worked out with his selection, and if the Patriots found his replacement late in the 3rd round, that would be huge considering they only made four picks in this draft.
As we mentioned before, Garcia is maybe the most athletic offensive lineman available in this draft, but he does have some flaws that need to be coached out of him at the NFL level. When we spoke with Garcia on the conference call following his selection, he said he "met with the offensive line coach and he liked the atmosphere", but he wasn't aware of Dante Scarnecchia's name when we asked him. He doesn't need to know his name, he just needs to know how to say, "yes coach" if he wants to develop into the Patriots next left tackle. From what we've seen over the last four years, I'd be willing to bet he achieves his goal.
CHECK OUT GARCIA'S HIGHLIGHT VIDEO, PROVIDED BY Pro Football Weekly on YouTube :
College Statistics Provided By TroyTrojans.com
Follow me @chris_simoneau