By: Steve Balestrieri
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, which we'll get to shortly.
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.
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 former Patriot, Logan Mankins.
Round 1, # 29 overall: Cole Strange, OG, Tennessee-Chattanooga: (continued) 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?”
Round 2, # 50 overall: Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor: (continued) 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.
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.
Round 4, #121 overall, Jack Jones, CB, Arizona State: (continued) 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 defended.
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.
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.
Round 4, #137 overall: Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky: (continued) 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.
Round 6, #183 overall: Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina: 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.
Round 6, #200 overall: Sam Roberts, DT, Northwest Missouri State: (continued) 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. My full Sunday Column has some thoughts on that topic.
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