Some thoughts coming off a surprising 2022 NFL Draft weekend:
1) The New England Patriots came out of this weekend’s NFL Draft having addressed various needs, but it’s probably safe to say that how things went ended up being far different than what most people expected.
One of the most surprising parts of the weekend was the fact New England came away having not selected a single linebacker, which gives a slight indication that they’re somewhat comfortable enough with who they have that they’re potentially prepared to roll with that heading into the season.
As it currently stands, they brought back Ja’Whaun Bentley, acquired Mack Wilson in the Chase Winovich trade, and still have last year’s rookies Cameron McGrone and Ronnie Perkins, along with 2020 draft picks Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche. They also have Raekwon McMillan and Harvey Langi, with this entire group essentially led by veteran, Matthew Judon.
So it feels like there’s a belief that a couple – or more – of these guys will grow into a role. Given that they’re trying to get younger and faster, that would be ideal and after spending two straight drafts the last two years bringing guys in at the position, having it pay off this year would be a great time for it to happen.
That’s not to say opportunities weren’t missed this past weekend (both Georgia’s Quay Walker and Utah’s Devin Lloyd came off the board after New England traded back from #21 to #29) for guys they may have wanted. But at the same time, if they wanted them, they could have very well had either with their original first-round selection at #21 prior to selecting offensive lineman Cole Strange at #29.
Selecting Strange in Round 1 Thursday night surprised everyone. (Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)
Grabbing an impact player either at linebacker or on their defensive line would have seemed to be a great move with that pick. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and it’s hard not to wonder if the gamble to move back eight spots (which did also net them a 3rd and 4th round pick) stemmed from the fact they believed they’d have a shot at one. What seemed to potentially throw things off was Jacksonville jumping back into the round and trading up to #27 to take Lloyd off the board. The Packers then grabbed Georgia defensive tackle, Devonte Wyatt, with the next pick at #28.
It’s entirely possible that when they made the trade, they may have believed they had a shot at both Lloyd or Wyatt. Either essentially looked like a win-win, but instead, the Jaguars may have thrown things off enough (reports are they felt New England was taking Lloyd and that’s why they made the trade), causing the Patriots to come up empty.
Now that we’ve seen how things finished, it’s obvious the next choice was Cole Strange, and rather than lose picks to trade up in round two to get him, instead, it felt like they decided to treat the #29th overall pick like a second-round pick and took him.
While some will talk about Strange being over-drafted, there were teams who apparently had him higher on their board and Belichick believed Stange might very well have been gone early into round two. When you’re talking a difference of three picks, it feels like a moot point and if Strange turns out to be a solid player, then the logic – if that’s what they were indeed thinking when they took him – makes sense.
2) Listening to the critics regarding the selection of Strange, it’s funny how things shift and it’s a reminder that someone always needs to be first when it comes to taking a player who analysts initially thought was a later round projection.
In this case, it was New England but like every year, there were plenty of players who fell down the board and were taken later, as well as others who were taken earlier than people thought.
The Los Angeles Rams were a team that had Strange on their board as a potential late third-round selection at 104 overall. Head coach Sean McVay was caught on camera laughing about how Strange had gone in round one when he had been on their radar as a selection at that pick. McVay’s reaction was more of a, “well, that’s a surprise that a guy we wanted went so early” and it was instead turned into a moment to question New England’s decision within the media.
McVay has since reportedly reached out to Belichick privately on the matter, but it just goes to show that all teams rate various players differently.
Again, the difference of one round (if New England treated it as a second-round selection) isn’t quite as dramatic as some make it out to be. The Patriots’ second-round pick wasn’t until pick #54 prior to when they decided to move up four spots to #50 and take speedy WR Tyquan Thornton. By trading out of round one, there’s no guarantee they would have been able to pull off being able to move up enough in round two to get Strange (which is where another team was rumored to be interested in him), and depending on the cost, it might have also handicapped New England enough to prevent them from landing one of the other players taken this weekend.
Jones is an intriguing prospect – Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
3) The Patriots did a fairly good job of addressing the secondary, which was obviously an area that they still weren’t entirely comfortable with heading into the weekend. Both of the guys they took in Marcus Jones (3rd round, #85 overall) and Jack Jones (Round 4, #121 overall) are each two very good coverage corners, with Jones also adding an element in the return game that they needed having opted to let Gunner Olszewski depart via free agency.
Their additions add youth to a secondary that is essentially in rebuilding mode right now, with Jonathan Jones as an underrated bright spot for this group. He’s a player who has really grown and also previously held his own against elite receivers like Tyreek Hill, and was terrific in coverage in 2021 prior to going down with an injury. From there, it’s essentially veteran stopgap players like Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell, with Mills being inconsistent in 2021. Malcolm Butler’s return helps, but it’s not known what he’ll bring having been away from the game for a year. There are also questions about Shaun Wade, who some believe could be a factor, but he’s also a question mark.
As a result, Belichick needed to add youth and it looks like he might have found two fairly talented players, with Marcus Jones filling multiple needs. Having one or both emerge into a contributor at some point this season would be the goal, but their selections were a great first step in trying to get the process moving in the right direction, especially with Jonathan Jones set to be a free agent after this season.
4) It’s hard not to be a little curious about what fourth-round pick, RB Pierre Strong, is going to look like in this offense. He’s obviously got great speed but he’s also smooth when he moves laterally with a great burst after he cuts and he’s dangerous once he gets into the second level. He’s also a player that the Jackrabbits did use out of the backfield at times last season, with Strong catching 21 passes for 144 yards.
How they’ll work him into the offense should be interesting to watch, but the fact they took two players (they also took Kevin Harris at #183 overall in Round 6) speaks volumes of where things might be headed. Damien Harris is heading into a contract year and Rhamondre Stevenson appears to be the only starter who is guaranteed to be on the roster beyond 2022. With James White’s future also in question as he comes back from his devastating hip injury, Belichick opted to try and continue adding on to that position to ensure Mac Jones has viable players in the backfield to keep things moving.
Strong is rated as a player who does a good job in pass protection, which was an area that J.J. Taylor struggled with last season, seemingly contributing to his lack of playing time. It’s hard to say whether or not Strong might be used in a third-down role, but he’s athletic enough and seems like a player with the tools to potentially handle those duties.
Either way, adding someone with his speed definitely adds an interesting element to a group that definitely looks poised to continue hopefully being a key part of the offense heading into the future.
5) After seeing the full list of 2022 Patriots Draft Picks, the attention turned to the undrafted free agent pool of players and there were some interesting names who joined the club over the weekend.
Here’s the list of UDFA players who were added following the draft:
D’Eriq King, QB – Miami
Jake Julien, P – Eastern Michigan
DaMarcus Mitchell, LB – Purdue
LaBryan Ray, DT – Alabama
Kody Russey, C – Houston
Liam Shanahan, OL – LSU
Brendon Schooler, S – Texas
The one notable name was King, who is a versatile player out of Miami. King already said earlier this offseason that he’s a player willing to play in multiple spots including receiver, which makes him an interesting addition if he can evolve into a player who might be able to give the club a presence out of the slot.
Shanahan joins LSU teammate Chasen Hines, who the team took at #210 overall in Round 6. Having a familiar face will likely make the experience a little easier, while hopefully seeing both players develop and provide some youth and depth along New England’s offensive line.
Mitchell reportedly had a private workout with New England back in March, which seemingly paved the way for his opportunity.
“It went pretty well,” said Mitchell via GoldandBlack.com following the workout. “He put me through some good drills. He really liked me. He liked me a lot.”
The linebacker out of Purdue is an athletic player who apparently impressed the Patriots during that workout. Judging by how things went, he projects as a potential player at outside linebacker, or at least that’s what he said he was told during the meeting.
“Outside linebacker,” he said. “That is where the Patriots scout said they liked me.”
The Patriots reportedly had Mitchell execute change-of-direction drills, backpedaling … even pushing a sled despite not wearing pads, among other drills during the workout.
“He wanted to see how fast I could get out of my breaks, how fast I could get to the ball,” said Mitchell, who made 25 tackles in 2021 with 7 TFLs and 4.5 sacks.. “He even put on a vest and had me push him.”
What’s interesting about Mitchell is that he’s 6’3″, 255lbs but he’s unbelievably athletic, with the scout that worked with him seemingly believing he was lighter than that.
“When I started doing the drills, he thought I was 245, 250 pounds,” said Mitchell. “I told him I was 255. He was like ‘What the heck?’ “
As a result, we’ll have to see if he ends up being among names who could surprise people heading into training camp.
In the meantime, here’s the Full List of Players Drafted By the Patriots in 2022.
More Patriots News Headlines: