We’ll never know for sure whether the New England Patriots needed to use a first-round pick to get Cole Strange to Foxboro, though it does seem as if they got themselves a surefire starter.
The Patriots pulled off the surprise of the first round when they took Strange with the 29th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday night. Many so-called experts had Strange more likely to go off the board in the third round at the earliest, though New England coach Bill Belichick seemed to dispute that notion.
Regardless of the actual draft value, Strange looks the part of a Day 1 starter on the interior offensive line. Learning more about the Tennesse-Chattanooga product uncovers a diligent, hard-working and committed football player who likes to inflict a little pain.
“What you see is what you get. You’ve got a guy who doesn’t have gloves on and no tape — a guy who plays aggressive, a guy who plays physical,” Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright told WEEI-FM on Friday morning. “He can play a bunch of different spots, can play both guard spots. He went down to the Senior Bowl and they threw him in at center. He started the game and ended up going a bunch of snaps there, so you know he can do that. He’s just a big, aggressive guy that plays football old school. He tries to punish people and hurt folks and plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
That’s bad news for interior defensive lines in the AFC East, who will have their hands full with Strange for the next few years at least. And it’s that sort of scouting report that has some hoping Strange turns into the next Logan Mankins for New England.
Wright also praised Strange for his versatility — he even filled in at center for the Mocs in an emergency spot — and Wright believes Strange has the size and speed to be effective in both the run and pass game at the next level.
But what sets Strange apart, Wright said, is how committed he is to improving and maximizing his potential.
“What you saw since he got to college was a guy that just, he started becoming a professional his sophomore year with how he treated everything,” Wright explained. “How he practiced, how he did in the weight room, how he handled his classwork, how he handled his day-to-day life to give himself an opportunity to get to this spot. You saw him play every snap for the last five years, never miss a practice, never miss a weight room assignment, never miss a class, never be on any list or anything and get himself an opportunity to get himself to get to this and he just continued to grow and get better.
“Very few people at our level playing offensive line or defensive line will outwork this guy. I know everybody says that, but he was always in the weight room doing extra, he was always on the practice field doing extra, he was always in study hall doing more time to get his degree. that’s just the kind of person he is.”
Strange is slated to get a few more new teammates Friday with New England holding three picks combined over Rounds 2 and 3.