With the 2022 NFL Draft in the books, it’s time to look back and give an honest evaluation of what the Patriots did this week. I won’t be giving a draft grade because you can’t tell what these players will do or how they will develop for at least three years.
Bill Belichick is arrogant. He doesn’t give a crap what you think of him, how he evaluates players, and what he does to pick his own groceries. He has a clear disdain for the media and those who analyze and evaluate draft prospects. I think the only “Draftnik” he had any respect for was the late Joel Buchsbaum. At about the same time Mel Kiper was fashioning a career at ESPN analyzing the draft, Buchsbaum was locked inside his NY City apartment pouring over movies and videotapes to create his Draft Guide. He started in 1975 writing for Pro Football Weekly. Belichick admired him because he put in the time to do a thorough job. At his funeral, Belichick called him “one of my best friends” according to Hub Arkush of Pro Football Weekly. Belichick even offered him a job when he was with Cleveland.
Mel Kiper has been doing his Draft Analysis for 38 years, starting in 1984 on the fledgling ESPN network. You may agree or disagree with Kiper (I know I do), but he has earned the respect of all in the league (except Bill Polian). Kiper gave the Patriots his lowest grade of C- for the draft citing the reach selections of Cole Strange, Tyquan Thornton, and Jack Jones. At best, Strange was a 3rd round pick. During the draft, ESPN posted an analysis that there was a 96% probability Strange would be available at pick #54.
The Patriots got punked by the Bills selecting Kaiir Elam at pick #23. At the Patriots’ original draft position of #21, there were players available with similar draft grades at #21 and #29 but none were sure-fire 1st round grades. The Boston Globe floated the theory the Patriots wanted either Trevor Penning OT or Zion Johnson OG at #21. Filling the OG position was their top priority and those two filled a need. When those two were gone they traded the pick. The next priority was CB. They needed a shutdown man corner. There were two available in Trent McDuffie and Kaiir Elam. What they didn’t anticipate was KC taking a CB and then Buffalo taking the other CB. That left them at #29 and panicking. They were not going to be punked again and they took Strange earlier rather than when they should have. They made sure they got their man. In my opinion, they needed a shut-down corner more than an OG. The Patriots have had a lot of experience drafting good OG in the 4th round. I know that each draft is different, but they could have waited. They couldn’t get off the field against Buffalo and without a shutdown corner, how were they going to get it done?
This Offensive line problem actually started with a mistake they made in the 2021 draft. The Patriots selected Ronnie Perkins in the 3rd round pick #96. They knew he was hurt and would probably need a medical red-shirt year, which is exactly what happened. Perkins dropped because of a medical issue. What they should have done was take OG/OC Quinn Meinerz who played for DIII Wisconsin – Whitewater. I had an argument with Evan Lazar, CLNS Media, a very good draft analyst about Meinerz being an OG and he insisted he was a Center. Meinerz owned the Senior Bowl practices and taught himself how to play OC and shotgun snap. He did that very well at the Senior Bowl practices being named practice player of the week. This was his audition against other top D1 talents. Denver selected him two picks after Perkins and he ended up as their starting LG by season’s end. If the Patriots had taken Meinerz, they would haven’t have had the problem at LG this season.
1st Round Pick #29 Cole Strange OG Tennessee Chattanooga – I believe Cole Strange will be a very good player for the Patriots. His Relative Athletic Score (RAS) was 9.96. That was the 7th highest score of all guards drafted between 1987 – 2022 (1298 players). He is uber-athletic, tough, and smart, the three qualities Dante Scarnecchia said they look for in an OL. Strange was also a team Captain, and in the Patriots grading system, that gets him extra points. The tape of his Kentucky (SEC) game was magnificent. He seals blocks, double-teamed NT, and then once controlled, climbs to the next level to block the LB creating a huge hole and eventual TD. On the negative side he tried to play OC at the Senior Bowl and failed miserably. He couldn’t shotgun snap and had difficulty getting into his passing stance from the Center position. He received a 0.0 pass-blocking grade. To his credit, he stayed with it at OC for the entire Senior Bowl week. This may have dropped him in the rankings and eyes of scouts. Strange can’t play OC and I don’t want to hear that he is the backup to David Andrews. NFLmockdatabase had him as the #86th ranked player; ESPN had him ranked 69yj and ProFootball Weekly had him as #86 and the 5th ranked OG. I did a post-draft mock draft using PFF and picked Strange as the third Patriots selection at #58 and received an “F” grade for that selection. In fairness, there is a report that the Chicago Bears were in constant contact with Cole Strange and had their O Line coaches give him a private workout. They were hoping to take him at #39.
2nd Round Pick #50 Tyquan Thornton WR Baylor – At pick #29 three cornerbacks (Andrew Booth, Roger McCreary, and Kyle Gordon) remained on the board. All three were gone by pick # 42. New Orleans surprised me with the selection of Alontae Taylor CB Tennessee at pick 49. That was a round earlier than expected. The Patriots traded up from 54 to 50 to acquire Thornton. My next priority would have been Linebacker. They need more speed from this position. Nope it was a skinny but fast WR from Baylor. As the draft went on, it became obvious the Patriots’ brain trust doesn’t think they have a problem at LB. I do … They lost ¾ of their starting LB crew from last year. They traded for an undersized ILB in Mack Wilson (6’1” 240 4.713 40). They drafted Cameron McGrone (6’ 237 lbs, 4.5 71 40) from Michigan last year knowing he couldn’t play due to a knee injury. He would need a medical red-shirt year. Both are on the smaller side like the majority of college linebackers are now. Raekwon McMillan was having a great camp last year when he blew out his knee. The holdover is De’whaun Bentley who is just a 2-down LB that gets picked on by opposing running backs when he tries to cover them. There were three LBs available at pick 50. I thought for sure they would grab LB Troy Andersen from Montana State, Chad Muma from Wyoming, or Leo Chenal from Wisconsin.
Thornton was the fastest WR at the combine. However, he is only 170 lbs at 6’3”. He had his wrists measured at the combine and they were 6 ½ “, the smallest of any receiver ever at the Senior Bowl. They say he has the quickness to get off press coverage, but that’s not backed up by his pedestrian 7.25 3-cone drill. He has the worst 3-cone time of any Patriots WR including Matthew Slater. He doesn’t have that quick change of direction. His vertical leap of 38 ½ “ is great as is the 33 ¾ “ arm length. He caught 52 passes for 948 yards for a 15.3 average and 10 TDs in 2021. However, he doesn’t add much in the yards after the catch area. He has small hands 8 ¼” and drops a lot of passes. Will have trouble with contested catches. Thornton will stretch the field and give Mac Jones a legit player that can separate from DBs, a problem the Patriots had last season. A willing blocker despite his slight size and he will go across the middle. I can see him running those under routes. He doesn’t have much experience with the entire route tree. Does this mean that the 3-cone drill doesn’t matter anymore? If that was the case why didn’t they draft Skyy Moore a more well-rounded WR than Thornton. Moore doesn’t drop the ball, runs precise pass routes, and is great with yards after the catch.
3rd Round Pick # 85 Marcus Jones CB Houston – Over the last few weeks, Marcus Jones has been occupying this draft slot at pick #85 in all the mock drafts I did. He is the only pick I correctly selected in my last Patriots Mock Draft. The reason I selected him was his outstanding Punt Return skills. The Patriots had a need there and M Jones immediately fills the need. He will make an impact here. As far as his skills as a DB, that will come slower. He has good skills but his size at 5’8” 170 lbs. will hurt him. Jones has outstanding speed (4.38e per NFL Draft Scout). He was unable to perform at the combine or pro day workout due to offseason shoulder surgery on both shoulders. This along with his size may have dropped him in the rankings. Jones was productive at Houston last year with 47 tackles, 13 PBU, and 5 INT. His production on special teams ranked him #1 in the country. He had 15 KO for 510 yards. 34 YPA and 2 TDs. His numbers for Punt Returns were equally dangerous with 26 PR, 374 yards, 14.4 avg and 2 TDs. Marcus Jones can also play wide receiver. He had 10 catches for 109 yards and a TD last year for the Cougars. Don’t be surprised if you see Jones lined up as a receiver with that speed. Look for Jones to end up as a slot DB covering players like Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Gabriel Davis. Good pick and fills a need.
4th Round Pick #121 (acquired from KC) Jack Jones CB Arizona St – Jones had been linked to the Patriots over the last few weeks. This is another player that was drafted too early. Many teams were down on Jacks Jones because of the Red Flags in his background not his play on the field. He was kicked out of USC for academic reasons. He enrolled at Moorpark Community College and then Arizona State and was charged with a Breaking and Entering a Panda Express restaurant at 3 in the morning. At USC he had 13 PBU and 5 INTs as a freshman in 2017. The former 5-star recruit had an outstanding season with the Sun Devils recording. He was also suspended by ASU for fighting in 2020. He ran a 4.51 40, 35” Vertical Leap and then had a 6.90 3-cone at his Pro Day). The 5’11.2 “ 177 lbs Jones is a “baller” according to Maurice Jones-Drew on the NFL Network’s Draft Coverage. For his career, he had 29 PBUs, 10 INT, and a 78.8 Grade from last season from PFF. He was a confident outside corner and it shouldn’t be too long before we see Jones on the field. Jones is also 24 years old. The Patriots aren’t afraid to take older players in the draft.
I like the selection of Jack Jones but not at pick #121. Many teams had him off their board because of his off-field issues. It would have been more appropriate if he was selected with pick # 183. Carolina took the last of the linebackers with size and speed when they selected Brandon Smith of Penn St at pick #120. Smith ran a 4.52 40 at 6’3.4” 144 lbs. and did a 6.94 3-cone. I think the Patriots wanted him and panicked after losing him hey took Jack Jones earlier rather than risk losing him.
4th Round #127 Pierre Strong RB South Dakota State – I originally had Pierre Strong in my final mock draft but had to change it when the Patriots made that pre-draft trade with Houston. They traded pick #170 for #183 and #245. When they did that Strong wasn’t available at #183. Even this pick was about a round higher than it should have been. I love what Strong brings to the Pats. This is what The Athletic’s The Beast Draft Guide by Dane Brugler had to say about Strong “Composed feet between the tackles … sets up his moves and sticks his foot in the ground to cut away from would-be tacklers … has widescreen vision, and shows a natural feel for lane development … presses the hole before cutting back … outstanding speed on the outside zone to create chunk plays and create conflict for second-level defenders … capable receiver out of the backfield with steady hands (also went 9-for-9 for 208 yards and six touchdowns as a passer in college) … highly productive and became just the third player in school history to reach 4,500 career rushing yards.” A weakness is that he too often goes down on 1st contact and he fumbled 5 times as a Senior. He is very good at blitz pickup and should be good as a 3rd down pass blocker. Strong’s career numbers: 631 rushes for 4, 527 yards, 7,2 YPC, 40 TDs; 62 receptions for 581 yards, 9.4 YPC, 3 Tds; 9 for 9 passing, 208 yards, 6 TDs. He was underutilized as a receiver. He should challenge James White or at least allow White extra time to recover from his hip injury on the PUP list. Pro Football Focus Draft Guide had this to say “ It’s been a long time coming for the redshirt senior back who’s been carrying the load for the Jackrabbits ever since 2018. That season he averaged over 9.0 yards per carry and went for 1,116 yards. Since then, he’s been known for his explosive ability with 76 of his 627 career attempts going for 15- plus yards. With his speed, he’ll continue to be a big-play threat in every offense he’s in. If he can improve his hands (nine drops on 71 career catchable), he can also be a weapon in the passing game. Can get north-south in the blink of an eye. Top-notch standstill burst. Good luck catching him in the open field. Top-end speed is elite. Runs square to the line as long as possible. Allows him to change lanes easily”. If you can’t tell I really like this pick. Strong was the fastest RB at the combine at 4.37 40 and had a 38” vertical leap. The 4.37 was the fastest for an RB at the combine.
Round 4 Pick # 137 Bailey Zappe QB Western Kentucky – He put up video game numbers at Western Kentucky. He set an NCAA record with 62 TD passes in 2021. That translated into 5, 967 yards on 681 attempts and 11 Ints. Zappe stands 6’0.4” 217 lbs and runs a 4.88 40 and 6.97 3-cone drill. He is extremely accurate throwing at 69.2 % completion rate. According to PFF, Zappe’s Adjusted Completion % was 77.4%. That was 10th amongst all QB in college football (no matter what division). Kenny Pickett was 78.8% good for 4th. This selection is more about finding a long-term backup to Mac Jones. Brian Hoyer will be 37 in October. He is signed for two seasons. The drafting of Zappe really is trouble for Jarret Stidham. Zappe is not known as a deep threat QB but is more of an accurate intermediate thrower. He throws a nice ball and leads his receivers past the defenders allowing for Yards After Catch. I really don’t have a problem with the selection but in my post-draft mock, I eliminated this selection.
Drafting a QB has been a staple of Belichick drafts. Matt Cassell, Jimmy Garoappolo, and Jacoby Brissett were traded with Cassell and Garoppolo fetching a better return than where they were drafted. Brissett was one-for-one for Phillip Dorsett coming to New England. Belichick drafted two NFL Head Coaches Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona) and Kevin O’Connell (Minnesota) and a possible third in Zac Robinson the Passing Game Coordinator for the LA Rams.
Round 6 Pick #183 Kevin Harris RB South Carolina – Harris led the SEC in rushing in 2020 with 1168 yards and a 7.2 YPC and 15 TDs. In 2021, Harris was recovering from back surgery and ran for 662 yards and 4 Tds. Between the two seasons, he had 32 catches for 248 yards, a 7.75 average, and a TD. Harris played through pain last season but should be fully recovered this season. Obviously the Patriots medical team gave them the thumbs up in order to draft him. Harris stands 5’9.7” 2220 lbs and ran a 4.62 40 with a bad hamstring. This pick reminds me of another productive SEC running-back, Brandon Bolden. Bolden ran a 4.66 40. Could this be a 4 team Special Teamer in the making?
Round 6 Pick #200 Sam Roberts DT Northwest Missouri State – Roberts is the second Cliff Harris Award winner selected by the Patriots in three years (Kyle Duggar 2019). The Harris award is to the Top Defensive player in Division II. He led the Bearcats with 12.5 tackles for loss and had 5 sacks amongst his 47 total tackles in 2021. Roberts is 6’4.6” 293 lbs and ran a 5.14 40 despite injuring his groin on the 40 (projected 4.98). A devote Patriots fan before being selected, Roberts proclaimed he was a big Brady guy and the Patriots were his team. Later he posted on Twitter in a Patriots Edelman jersey with a few words of encouragement for all those Chiefs fans out there!
Round 6 Pick #210 Chasen Hines G, LSU – At 6’2.6 331 lbs Hines is a little stout for OG and more in line with the OC position. I am a little concerned that he could only pop 20 reps on the Bench Press. Ran a 5.22 40. Thick lower body. Moves surprisingly well for a man of his size. 18 starts at RG and 1 at LG. Listed as backup OC on the depth chart. A developmental player that could make the team depending on how the RG/OC backup positions are decided. If he could fill both positions that would be a big plus for him. Hines was listed at 349 lbs as his playing weight but was recorded at 331 lbs at the combine.
Round 7 Pick #245 Andrew Stueber, G, Michigan – Stueber was part of the Michigan O line that won the Joe Moore Award for the Top college football. Participated in the Senior Bowl. Started 20 games at RT and 2 at RG in 34 games played. At 6’6.5” 325 lbs with 34” arms, Stueber has the size to play RT in the NFL. Stueber never ran a 40-yard dash. NFL Draftscout estimates his 40 as 5.38. I am concerned that he only lifted the bar 18 times for his Bench Press. I actually like the drafting of Stueber. He could be a developmental candidate for RT. It might mean a year on the Practice Squad.
I think the Patriots ran out of prospects on their Draft Board after the Bailey Zappe selection. Starting with pick #183 Kevin Harris, the remaining selections were Priority Undrafted Free Agents that they decided to draft rather than having to compete with other teams for their services if they were actually Undrafted Free Agents.
I was clamoring for more speed and this time the Patriots went extreme and got more team speed. Now let’s see how they perform in training camp and look for more Free Agent signings as the Patriots have Three open roster spots with the release of RB Devine Ozigbo. We have 7 Undrafted Free Agents signed that we know of. We also know of two invitees to rookie camp. I will highlight them in my next article.
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Draft
Tags: 2022 Patriots Draft Andrew Stueber Bailey Zappe Chasen Hines Cole Strange Jack Jones Kevin Harris Marcus Jones New England Patriots Pierre Strong Sam Roberts Tyquan Thornton