It sure looks like the New England Patriots had a higher draft grade on Cole Strange than a lot of other NFL teams.
The Patriots chose the the offensive lineman from Tennessee-Chattanooga with their first selection, No. 29 overall, at the end of the first round in Thursday’s NFL draft even though many pundits believed Strange wouldn’t come off the board until the second round at best.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. was lukewarm on the pick — it seemed he really didn’t want to question Bill Belichick’s draft decisions — and likened the selection to another former offensive lineman the Patriots took in the first round in 2005.
“Remember Logan Mankins out of Fresno State when the Patriots took him in the late first round?” Kiper said on the ESPN television broadcast. “Everybody kind of shook their heads and said, ‘How can you do that?’ Cole Strange had a second-round grade. Cole Strange is a guy that started 40-plus games with UT-Chattanooga.”
The 6-foot-6, 301-pound Strange spent six seasons at Tennessee-Chattanooga after redshirting his freshman year and he also received an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strange showed the versatility to play several positions on the line throughout his career, but Kiper believes Strange will slot in at guard with the Patriots and perhaps down the road could move around the line if he fixes a few things.
“He was even used at center in the Senior Bowl,” Kiper said. “Struggled with the snap. Only had one start at center at UT-Chattanooga. So he needs work on the shotgun snap, but he has a chance to be maybe down the road a guy that helps you at center.
“But he’s going to be guard that can help you right away. That’s what the Patriots needed to fill. You can say it’s a reach based on what the number was in terms of the grade, but he’s a good football player.”
The Patriots were originally slated to draft at No. 21 overall, but traded back in the first round with the Kansas City Chiefs while picking up an additional third and fourth round pick.