The best rookie for the New England Patriots this year isn’t who you would expect.

Taking him in the sixth round out of Michigan, offensive lineman Michael Onwenu has quickly climbed the ranks during his short stint with the Patriots, which is in part due to skill and also because of circumstance.

Because New England wants to utilize their loaded backfield and athletic quarterback, they have decided this season take advantage of their offensive line depth in order to bully opposing defenses in the run game. This had led to players like Onwenu earning playing time even as a reserve lineman, and it has earned him the opportunity to show his skill and athleticism on the football field.

His strong play over the first couple weeks not only got him more playing time in Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders, but it also earned him his first NFL start.

With starting center David Andrews being placed on injured reserve, New England decided to shift starting left guard Joe Thuney over to center, which left a vacancy to fill at left guard. And instead of plugging that spot with one of their more experienced reserve offensive lineman, they opted to give Onwenu the start instead, and it paid off.

“Mike’s shown a lot of versatility. He played right guard at Michigan, and that’s pretty much the only spot he played,” Bill Belichick said to the media on Monday. “Here he’s worked both guards and worked at right tackle, and right tackle was a new position for him. Left guard, even though guard is guard, footwork is all different over there where he played yesterday for Joe [Thuney]. It’s kind of like playing left handed when you’ve been playing right handed your whole life.”

“I think he’s done a really good job. He’s a smart kid, he’s got a lot of physical playing strength, he’s a good athlete, he’s got good football smarts and awareness and he’s done a good job for us, playing right tackle and then yesterday at guard he handled some good situations. He learned a lot and he’s still got a long way to go but did a lot of good things.”

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