Good morning, here are your weekly Patriots news 05-01 and some NFL notes. Was it just me here or did April seem to fly by?
The 2022 NFL Draft is now in the books and it was a crazy one in terms of movement around the board for the entire league. The Patriots, as they frequently do, moved around the board, initially moving down from 21 to 29, then jumping up from 54 to 50 before adding a pick before trading pick 94 and out of the 3rd round.
Day 3 saw the Patriots take two RBs, and two OL, although the latter were their last two picks. No linebackers were taken, I have an opinion on that below.
I know a lot of people want to put draft grades on these but a true draft grade isn’t going to be accurate until Year 3. Right now, the question to be asked is…Did they fill their draft needs?
And the answer is yes, now we wait for the roster to initially round out with some undrafted free agents.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots, and the NFL:
Logan Mankins: The Patriots guard was one of the toughest players in the league and a longtime mainstay of the offensive line. But flashback to 2005, when Bill Belichick selected Mankins with the 32nd pick, fans and media were all saying, “he could have drafted him in either Round 2 or 3!” Hmm.
Like many others, I was looking for help with the defense, especially the front seven. Belichick said that they had targeted Strange all along, so we’ll see what he can bring to the table.
Ben Lepper: The Make-A-Wish Foundation paired Massachusetts native Lepper with the Patriots and he, along with Lawrence Guy announced the Patriots’ 2nd round pick of the draft where they picked Tyquan Thornton.
Lepper is in remission from leukemia and appeared both excited but relaxed on the big stage. He’s now attending Holy Cross in Worcester and is calling football games on the campus radio station.
Matt Groh: The Patriots’ new Director of Player Personnel met with the media on Friday and had some interesting quotes on taking over his new position, moving up in the draft, and his take on the players drafted.
But his comments on moving up and the criticism of the team’s reaching for players were of particular interest.
“Nobody knows what the teams are going to do behind you. You don’t want to miss out on a player,” Groh said. “It’s not all so cut-and-dried, where you think a guy is going to go. You have to look at what the rest of the board is telling you.
“If you value a player high enough, then you want that player to be a part of your team,” he said. “You want to get faster, you better get fast guys. And I don’t know how many guys out there are faster than Tyquan. We’re really excited to add him and his explosive playmaking. He’s a little bit longer, a little bit leaner, but with his speed, he can certainly open some things up for us offensively.”
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. Derek Havens and I posted a video of some QB, RB, and TE prospects available and went over Derek’s mock draft which was a very good one.
Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.
Analysis of the Patriots Draft Picks:
Here is a list of the Patriots players that they drafted and how we think the team will try to best utilize their talents.
Round 1, # 29 overall: Cole Strange, OG, Tennessee-Chattanooga:
Like many others, I was shocked by the pick and didn’t like it. And then it dawned on me that it was because the team didn’t go in the direction I was hoping (front seven) and it immediately biased that. But the calls went out that the Patriots reached for Strange, something that was also said of Mankins (see above).
Strange has great length, (6’5, 307), a high football I.Q., is versatile and has played three positions along the offensive line tackle, guard, and center. He is athletic, strong, and can easily move out to the second level in the running and screen games.
Jim Nagy who used to be with the Patriots and now runs the Senior Bowl tagged Strange as a great fit for the team. He’ll be the Day 1 starter at left guard.
Round 2, # 50 overall: Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor:
Thornton was another surprise, when the Patriots moved up I thought it was going to be for Velus Jones Jr. from Tennessee, a very fast slot receiver who offers return ability, which they addressed later.
Thornton becomes just the 7th WR that the Patriots have drafted in the first three rounds during the Belichick era. So, while the mantra continues to be “Belichick can’t develop WRs, is it that or a question of “Has Belichick devalued the position?”
The Patriots traded the #54 and #158 picks to the Chiefs to slide up four spots to nab Thornton who they had in for a visit to Foxboro. And for the calls that they reached, they moved up for him, and right after his selection, three of the next four picks were WRs.
“I Feel the Need…The Need for Speed”
So, Thornton’s selection was another surprise. With all of the clamoring about “Mac Jones needs a speedy WR”, this spring…Thornton more than checks the block. He ran a blistering 4.28 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, the fastest time of any WR. I believe Tyreek Hill ran a 4.29. If you want speed, this guy has speed to burn.
The 6’2, 181-pound Thornton has a spindly frame, but has great hands, runs good routes, and won’t be afraid to go over the middle. With the addition of DeVante Parker in a trade with Miami, now they have speed on the outside. How well he assimilates to the Patriots’ offense and learns the playbook and route tree will determine how successful he will be.
Round 3, # 85 overall: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston:
Another surprise, again, I thought it would be a front seven player, but this is a really versatile, intriguing player. Jones is a converted WR and is small, he’s only 5’8, 174, but he is very versatile and played slot and boundary corner, safety and is a very good kickoff and punt returner. He was awarded with the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in college football.
Jim Nagy again tagged Jones as a Patriot, comparing him with the great Troy Brown. “He’s a fun player to watch, a lot of energy, a lot of burst. One of the highest compliments you can give a DB is that he’s just a ‘baller’ — you can stick him anywhere. He’s sticky in coverage [and] can mirror anyone. … He’s very much like Troy Brown, just more slanted towards defense.”
Jones should compete initially with nickel or dime package roles defensively and immediately step in as a kick returner, where he had 10 TDs in Houston. Six kickoff, three punts, and a pick-six on defense all returned for TDs.
Round 4, #121 overall, Jack Jones, CB, Arizona State:
Another Jones at CB, we may be seeing a lot of first names on the back of jerseys this season. Jones had a pre-draft visit with the Patriots, so there was a significant interest there. Jones started at USC and kicked off the team due to a burglary at a restaurant. He went for a year to Junior College before landing at Arizona State.
At the Shrine Bowl this spring, the director of football operations and player personnel Eric Galko said that Jones is a steal for the Patriots. He added that Jones is one of the best pure man cover corners in this draft. He’s undersized at 5’10, 171 but has quick twitch ability. In 2021, he was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention with 32 tackles, one sack, three forced fumbles, three INTs and nine passes defensed.
Asked in a conference call with the media, what he learned from his past mistakes, he was blunt in his response. I learned from it. I’m looking forward to moving forward. I’m not really worried about the past. I’m working on my present right now, what I have going on and controlling what I can control.
Round 4, #127 overall, Pierre Strong Jr., RB, South Dakota State:
Strong had an outstanding 2021, albeit against lesser competition. He rushed for 1,673 yards on 240 carries, nearly a 7.0 yard average with 40 career rushing touchdowns of which 10 were 50+ yard scores.
Strong is another prospect built for speed. He clocked the fastest time of any RB in the draft, clocking in at 4.37 in the 40-yard dash. This follows along with Matt Groh said about wanting to get the team faster and more athletic.
A former QB, Strong attempted nine career passes, completing all of them for 208 yards and six TDs. However, he is not a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Round 4, #137 overall: Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky:
The Patriots seemed to have drafted their backup of the future. With Brian Hoyer getting up there in age and Jarrett Stidham on the last year of his rookie contract, enter Zappe. He had the highest Wonderlic score of any QB and threw for an NCAA single-season records with 5,967 passing yards 62 TDs last year.
Once again, the Senior Bowl’s Jim Nagy probably had a hand in Zappe coming to New England. When Larry Holder of the Athletic talked QBs at Mobile, Zappe was the first guy that Nagy talked about.
It will be fun to watch how quickly he can master the playbook of the Patriots.
Round 6, #183 overall: Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina:
The Patriots get another RB, although this may have been the case for the best player available at this point in Round 6. However, he is a big, bruising physical back who runs downhill. Injuries and illness cut short his final season with the Gamecocks but he finished his career with 358 carries into 1,798 yards and 23 touchdowns.
He can catch the ball out of the backfield tallying 35 catches for 274 yards and fumbled only once in 28 career games. He’s 5’10, 221 and is a battering ram while running straight ahead.
With Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Pierre Strong, all considered locks, and James White recovering from an injury, Ty Montgomery, J.J. Taylor, and Devine Ozigbo may find themselves competing with Harris for one roster spot.
Round 6, #200 overall: Sam Roberts, DT, Northwest Missouri State:
Roberts is a small school stud who checks in about 6’4 and 300 pounds. He is another older prospect (24) who spent six years at school. Again, against slightly lesser competition, he appeared in 50 games with 38 starts, he tallied 18.5 sacks and forced two fumbles. He also was able to block a combined five kicks.
While not a lock to make the roster he could earn himself a spot as a subpackage pass rusher as well as being on the field goal blocking team. He is the second member of the Patriots to win the Cliff Harris Award as the top defensive player in small schools.
Round 6, #210 overall: Chasen Hines, G, LSU:
The powerful 6’2, 327 Hines has NFL size and toughness. He is strong and aggressive in the running game and has decent technique as a pass blocker according to Lance Zierlein of the NFL.com.
His weight was a problem last year, which some scouts say hurt his 2021 production. He will compete initially for a backup role and could be moved to center in the future.
Round 7, #245 overall: Andrew Stueber, OT, Michigan:
The Patriots final draft pick was the big, OL from Michigan. The 6-7, 325 Steuber played in 34 games for Michigan with 22 starts, 20 at right tackle, 2 at right guard and at the Senior Bowl played some center. So, he’s versatile.
He projects more as a guard in the NFL due to limited athleticism but was considered one of the smarter players on Michigan’s defense. He’ll compete for a roster spot.
Are The Patriots Standing Pat With Their LBs?
When the draft started we all expected the Patriots to add some impact pieces to the front seven, particularly the LBs. Players like Nakobe Dean, Devin Lloyd, Troy Andersen, and Leo Chenal (who fits what the Patriots usually covet at the position), were all available to them but they passed on all of them.
This is an intriguing decision by the team, but as Matt Groh said, the team is extremely high on Cameron McGrone, who they drafted a year ago, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to play due to a torn ACL suffered late in the 2020 season. Now he should be fully healthy and you can look at him as a 2022 draft pick who had the benefit of sitting in the defensive meetings last year. Rewatch his tape at Michigan and he is that type of athletic sideline-to-sideline linebacker the team really needs.
But it is not just McGrone, the team invested in Raekwon McMillan last year and was having a heck of a summer before tearing an ACL. They immediately re-signed him for this season, which tells you how the coaching staff feels about him as well.
The Patriots also invested in Josh Uche, and Anthony Jennings. This is a big year for both of them entering Year 3. Uche has the talent to be an impact pass rusher while Jennings has the ability to be an edge-setter in the running game. They drafted Ronnie Perkins from Oklahoma last year, and we have yet to see him on the field or how the team will attempt to use him.
The pressure will be on these young players to produce and provide the team with a much more athletic group of linebackers, stopping the run, dropping into coverage, and getting after the QB. But if the first three rounds were any indication, then the coaching staff believes that they will be up to the task.
On our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast a while back, Derek Havens, Russ Goldman, and I discussed this very thing. If Belichick goes with the younger players and they struggle, then so be it, at least they will know what they have in them and can adjust accordingly.
“Again, he’s long, he’s athletic. He’s physically tough. He’s an aggressive player. I think he has a good combination of skills, run and pass, movement, length, strength, again, all of which will hopefully get better, like they will with any player coming from college to the National Football League. But I think he has a good skill set, and he’s a smart player that makes a lot of good decisions on the interior line there, timing, when to come off, and combo blocks, things like that.
“But you know, as always, it’ll be good to work with a player, but he has a lot to learn and a lot to do.”
Bill Belichick, when asked about what he thought about #1 pick Cole Strange
“So, how was your week?”
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Andrew Steuber Bailey Zappe Chasen Hines Cole Strange Jack Jones James White Kevin Harris Mac Jones Marcus Jones New England Patriots Pierre Strong Sam Roberts Tyquan Thornton