I’m filling in for Steve Balestrieri this week to give him a break, but it’s obviously been a bit of a crazy week so there is definitely a bit of ground to cover. So let’s get to it.
Here is today’s Patriots news, along with some additional notes.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots, and the NFL:
Matt Groh: When it came to trying to address one of their key roster needs – more speed on both sides of the ball – Groh believes the team’s approach last weekend did just that.
“At certain positions, there’s only so many ways to handle speed, and these guys wake up every morning and they’re fast,” said Groh. “It’s a great gift I was never fortunate enough to have. But we’re going to try and put them in the best position to use that speed and open things up for us.”
Among the names drafted who fall into that category is speedy wideout Tyquan Thornton, as well as defensive backs Marcus Jones and Jack Jones. Add into that mix running back Pierre Strong Jr., who like Thornton was one of the fastest players in his position group, and it’s clear that New England did the best they could to start getting themselves a step closer to their peers in the AFC, who as we’ve seen have already started that shift.
Who ran the draft?: The belief among most was that as different as this year was here in New England, Groh appears to be the consensus as the guy Bill Belichick trusted enough to call the majority of shots last weekend.
Considering Belichick’s old-school style of typically targeting guys from bigger programs, these players seemed to be guys who were selected more based on their metrics than where they played. When you take into account the fact a lot of these guys came from multiple smaller programs than we’ve seen in past years, the next question is going to be whether or not they succeeded in college due to playing against lesser competition, or if they truly are NFL-worthy.
The RAS metric (relative athletic score) was a topic of conversation this past week, which was an area where most of New England’s selections scored highly. Many teams now are relying on both scouting and analytics when it comes to evaluating players and it feels like more of that was used by the Patriots this year than in past drafts.
As a result, it lead to some surprising picks from lesser-known programs. Groh talked about the fact the Patriots try and make themselves aware of whatever talent might be out there regardless of whether or not they play at a big school. We saw them take guys from places like South Dakota State (Strong Jr.) and Northwest Missouri State (Sam Roberts), as well as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (Cole Strange), which Groh emphasized that talent is clearly the focus, not the size of the program.
“We’ve got to cover every school and be on top of wherever there’s a player,” said Groh. “We’re going to go find them and we’re going to get to know them, and we’ve got to see how they would fit into our program and then what skills they have. It’s not just the Alabamas and LSUs. We’re happy to have a player from LSU and Arizona State and some of these big-name programs, but it ultimately comes down to the kid and the skill set and how they’re going to fit in, into our culture and into our scheme.”
Whether or not it works out is obviously what everyone will be watching for. After the team’s struggles in previous drafts prior to 2021, they needed to start stringing some good ones together. Following up on last year’s solid group was clearly a priority, so we’ll see if this new approach proves successful in 2022.
White takes part in Kraft Initiative – The Patriots apparently took part in a cool initiative that was launched last December, partnering with the New Bedford police department for a “Lights On” program to bring awareness to drivers who had a tail light that was out.
The club put out a video on Twitter that saw running back James White join a policeman for a shift as the officer pulled over citizens who instead of being cited, were provided with a voucher for the repair.
“The Lights On program provides a new approach to a societal problem”, said owner Robert Kraft during the video. “Instead of punishing drivers for lights out and taxing the driver with added expenses, the police will be providing assistance to get the light repaired for free.”
What was cool about it was the fact White was the one who had the pleasure of giving unsuspecting recipients that voucher, surprising each of those individuals that were pulled over during the initiative.
It appeared to be a fun experience for the veteran running back who although he wasn’t available on Sundays last season due to his hip injury, it clearly didn’t stop him from being active in the community.
Broken taillight? Not a problem.
More Insight Into Strange’s Pick:
The number one topic that dominated the discussions this week was the selection of first-round pick Cole Strange, which obviously left plenty of people scratching their heads after the Patriots decision to grab the Scrappy Moc offensive lineman on night one with the #29 overall selection.
After coming into the first round with the #21 selection, it’s safe to say the majority of people out there weren’t surprised to see Belichick move back after seeing the way the night unfolded, but what happened from there likely changed their approach after a frenzy of trades started.
Following the Packers’ selection of Georgia linebacker Quay Walker, the Bills traded up from #25 with the Ravens to grab Florida defensive back Kaiir Elam at #23, with the Cowboys then taking offensive tackle Tyler Smith at #24.
With the #25 selection, the Ravens used their pick from Buffalo on Iowa center, Tyler Linderbaum.
Then, two additional things happened that New England likely didn’t see coming. The Jets jumped back into Round one by trading their #35, #69 and #163 to Tennessee, picking up the #26 and #101 picks. They then took Florida State DT, Jermaine Johnson II with that #26 pick.
From there, Jacksonville also jumped back into Round 1, with the Jaguars striking a deal with the Buccaneers for the #27 overall pick after they surrendered the #33 overall selection along with picks #106 and #180. Jacksonville then took the player that the majority of analysts believed would be a Patriot in Utah linebacker, Devin Lloyd.
Reports out of Jacksonville also seemed to indicate they believed the Patriots would take Lloyd, which was why they jumped back into the fray ahead of them to ensure that didn’t happen.
The Packers then took defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt, ending a seven-pick stretch which likely didn’t go quite the way New England might have thought and possibly forced them to switch gears.
So the question remains whether or not they got burned a little bit by moving back and if it affected their approach. But as usual, Belichick didn’t offer much insight on whether or not that was the case. Instead, he said during his press conference that night that Cole was their guy all along, even though it definitely didn’t quite sound like that was the case.
“Yeah, well, if we had stayed at 21, then we would have obviously picked somebody. Probably a good chance it would have been him,” said Belichick when asked about the decision to move back. “I don’t know, there were several teams that we talked to prior to when we made the trade. There were some other conversations going on there, but ultimately that’s the one we chose.”
Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
If There Was Another Guy They Wanted, Why Didn’t They Trade Back and Target Strange in Round 2?
This is another tough question, which leads to a theory that’s already been pondered in this space this week. Obviously, most people have already talked about the fact they believe Strange was a player that was a reach and that the Patriots shouldn’t have taken him in Round 1. Some also believe that by trading back, they could have had him later in Round 2, with the belief being that he might have even been there at their original spot at #54.
While that might be true, it still would have required some luck and potentially left the door open for things to happen outside their control. Especially after seeing an unforeseen amount of trades late in Round 1 involving teams they likely didn’t expect to be involved jump ahead of them.
Mike Giardi of NFL Network confirmed there were other teams who had Strange on their board in Round 2, which might have started yet another trade-up scenario that could have burned New England and cost them their guy.
“On Cole Strange, I’ve learned, per source, there was a team in the 40s that had their eyes on Strange,” Tweeted Giardi. “Would they have traded up had he began day 2 still on the board? That part is unclear. Strange was getting picked in round 2 regardless.”
Strange’s stock had been rising and having come off the board early in round two was believed to be a possibility. ESPN’s Mel Kiper had Strange projected as a day two selection, mocking Strange at one point to the Buccaneers in the second round as they were believed to be one of the teams that were high on him.
Another club was Minnesota, who had Stange in for a Top 30 visit but took safety Lewis Cine at #32, followed by Andrew Booth Jr. at #42. They did take an offensive lineman, selecting Ed Ingram with the 59th overall selection. So whether or not they fell into that category is also a question mark.
But Giardi’s report could have been the reason the Patriots did decide to pull the trigger when they did. While the situation may not have necessarily been ideal, the bigger priority was likely making sure they were able to get their guy.
Belichick did say they broached the topic of moving back. However, it’s possible they didn’t like the options available to them, which is sort of what it sounded like.
“You know, there are usually options when we’re on the clock,” explained Belichick when asked if they considered moving back. “Did we have them? Maybe. You know, I’m not sure how far we would have — maybe. It’s hard to say.”
The overall impression just feels like they explored their options and didn’t feel comfortable with whether or not they’d potentially lose Strange by moving back to Round 2 to a pick that might not have been high enough in terms of where they were concerned he might go.
At that point, it’s possible the conversation turned to value, with the Patriots then switching gears and deciding to treat the #29 selection as an early day two pick (after all, it was only a few picks away from the first selection in that round at #33) and just taking Strange for the sake of making sure they got him. After potentially losing out on someone else – if that slew of trades did, in fact, throw things off – it’s possible that may have been their mindset.
I asked Greg Bedard about that very scenario in his weekly Q&A on Boston Sports Journal, and Bedard confirmed that the slew of moves likely did cause them problems.
“A lot of this draft felt like the Patriots were getting jumped by teams, and they were left just flailing at the board,” wrote Bedard.
“Round 1 – Lloyd and Wyatt went right before them”
“Round 2 – Texans grabbed Metchie earlier than expected six spots in front.”
“Round 3 – BAL took Travis Jones, Eagles took Dean, Steelers took Leal right in front of them.”
“Round 4 -BAL took Jalyn Armour-Davis, and Vegas took Farrell right before NE.”
“I don’t really have a read on if the Patriots would have taken Strange at 21. Seemed like they knew they were trading down, had multiple offers, and would have only stayed for a select few players.”
With whoever they possibly may have wanted leading up to that – if it wasn’t initially Strange – off the board, it was known that the club had a big need at guard. With Strange, his presence should solidify a line that will certainly be better off having someone like him opening up holes and protecting Mac Jones from guys breaking through up the middle.
While targeting a need is always part of the process, Belichick told former Patriots QB and 98.5 analyst Scott Zolak prior to the draft that the goal is to ensure whoever they get can get the job done.
“I think the key thing, though, is you want to make sure the player that you take is good enough … he’s a good enough player,” said Belichick. “Because if he isn’t, then you haven’t really filled the need even if you have on paper. In the end, it’s not going to work out. So you want to make sure that the players are good enough to actually make your team and can contribute to your team if you take him.”
Fortunately, despite all the talk, the bottom line is Strange ended up being their selection and he does appear to be the person they need to do just that.
Despite the Pick, Patriots Came Away Winners
While strange’s pick has been a massive pain point among fans and media who were hoping for an impact player on defense, it obviously didn’t happen.
So this week, the pick was consistently panned by critics, and likely will be depending on how things ultimately turn out with who they missed out on.
That being said, ESPN at least gave New England a high grade for the trade they made before taking him.
ESPN’s Seth Wilder made a list of what they felt were the “top value trades” from the 2022 draft and they gave the Patriots top honors for the trade they made with the Kansas City Chiefs, which allowed the Chiefs to trade up from #29 to #21, and Bill Belichick and company got the most out of them in order to make the deal.
In the trade, the Chiefs gave up the #94 and #121 picks in addition to the #29 selection.
“The overwhelming conclusion of charts based on actual player performance is that the difference in production you get out of a player selected at, say, pick No. 29 is much closer to what you get out of pick No. 21 than trades typically indicate,” wrote Wilder. “Yes, the player selected at 21 has a better career outlook, but the difference between them and a player at 29 is substantially smaller than the value of additional third-round and fourth-round selections.”
“As far as the trade itself, New England absolutely comes out ahead.”
The Patriots would go on to trade out of round three with that #94 selection after striking a deal with Carolina for next year’s 3rd round pick from the Panthers along with the #137 pick, which turned out to be quarterback Bailey Zappe.
Wilder still writes “I would argue yes” when it comes to whether or not the Patriots squandered the value from the trade, noting that there was a 93% chance Strange would have been available at the Patriots’ second-round slot.
Instead, having already taken Strange, New England used their second-round pick by trading up from #54 to #50 when they took Thornton.
Zappe’s Emotional Reaction to Being Drafted Was Moving:
We’ll leave you with this. Seeing Bailey Zappe’s reaction to being drafted was moving, with the Western Kentucky QB being brought to tears after hearing the news.
Here’s the video of the selection:
— NFL (@NFL) May 6, 2022
It’s possible Jarrett Stidham got a little emotional about this pick as well, as he’s now probably in trouble after Zappe’s selection.
If nothing else, it looks like there could be an interesting training camp battle brewing. Although, that’s obviously provided Stidham, who is in the final year of his contract, is still on the roster by the time they hit the field for training camp this July.
“Guys officiating don’t know how to handle that. He’s blocking a guy underneath the stands in a game we’re winning at the end of the game. He just tries to bury people. I mean, he’s aggressive, he’s physical. It doesn’t matter who it is, whether it’s a d-lineman, a linebacker, a DB.” – University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head coach, Rusty White during an appearance on NEXT PATS podcast with Phil Perry
“I mean, we can show you clips of him in college putting a guy in the umpire’s lap all the time, or driving him down the sidelines, or finishing a guy off that jumps in the air. He plays the game the old school way, which I think will be really great in New England. I think he’s going to fit in real well with that tough, hard-nosed personality, persona up there in that part of the country.” – White again on Strange’s collegiate career.
“Whatever it is at that quarterback position, yeah, one guy is only on the field, but you’d better have another good one or two or three or whoever it is in the system coming up, because you never know when those guys are going to be needed, and if you’re short at that position, you’re going to be in real trouble.” – Matt Groh on the Bailey Zappe selection
“A wise man once told me, you want to have a tough team, you’d better have tough players. We’re always looking to add tough players and speed. To be able to add some speed there to the perimeter and some athleticism inside, I mean, who’s not looking for those things?” – Groh
Thanks for reading and hope you all have a great week. In the meantime, please drop a comment down below and hopefully, we’ll have Steve back next week.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Bill Belichick Cole Strange Jack Jones James White Marcus Jones Matt Groh New England Patriots Pierre Strong Jr. Tyquan Thornton