Five Thoughts On Patriots’ 2022 Draft So Far After First-Round Stunner

Cole Strange was an obvious Patriots fit -- but not in Round 1

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As New England fans attempt to wrap their heads around their team’s latest first-round pick, here are five assorted thoughts on how the Patriots approached Day 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft, and what might lie ahead for them on Days 2 and 3:

1. Cole Strange at No. 29. Cole Strange at No. 29?!

It was easily the most surprising selection of Round 1, and not because Strange doesn’t make sense for New England. He actually looks like a perfect fit: a smart, athletic, tough, aggressive, uber-experienced Senior Bowl standout who was a collegiate captain and started 44 games at Chattanooga, including 42 at left guard, arguably the Patriots’ weakest position entering the draft. There’s a reason we included him in more than one of our Patriots mock drafts, and we weren’t alone in identifying him as a likely Bill Belichick favorite.

But this is about value. Strange was viewed as a third-round prospect by most prominent draft analysts, ranking in the mid-70s on Daniel Jeremiah’s and Dane Brugler’s big boards. The Athletic’s consensus big board had him right in that range, too, modestly ranked at No. 76 overall. The Patriots made their pick during a Rams news conference, Sean McVay and Les Snead both cracked up, with the former saying Los Angeles was evaluating Strange as a potential option at pick No. 104.

Belichick, though, was much higher on the FCS product. After Round 1 wrapped up, he said Strange “wouldn’t have lasted much longer” and that there was a “good chance” the Patriots would have taken him 21st overall if they hadn’t traded down.

2. In addition to being universally viewed as a reach, the Strange pick also was a departure from the Patriots’ usual offensive line strategy.

Since they traded away Logan Mankins before the 2014 season, every one of their regular interior O-line starters has been a mid-to-late-round pick or an undrafted free agent:

Dan Connolly: undrafted
Ryan Wendell: undrafted
Bryan Stork: fourth round
Tre’ Jackson: fourth round
Shaq Mason: fourth round
David Andrews: undrafted
Joe Thuney: third round
Ted Karras: sixth round
Mike Onwenu: sixth round

This also marks the first time the Patriots have drafted a guard or center in the first round since Mankins went 32nd overall in 2005. Those simply aren’t premium positions in today’s NFL, and New England consistently has found solid starters there without needing to use early-round draft capital.

Strange was the fourth interior O-lineman drafted Thursday behind Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green (No. 15, Houston), Boston College guard Zion Johnson (No. 17, Los Angeles Chargers) and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum (No. 25, Baltimore).

3. The Patriots chose to fill their guard need on Day 1 rather than addressing their deficiencies at linebacker or cornerback, despite multiple defensive players falling further than anticipated Thursday night.

New England passed on the following defenders by trading down from No. 21, then taking Strange eight picks later:

CB Trent McDuffie (No. 21, Kansas City)
LB Quay Walker (No. 22, Green Bay)
CB Kaiir Elam (No. 23, Buffalo)
EDGE Jermaine Johnson (No. 26, New York Jets)
LB Devin Lloyd (No. 27, Jacksonville)
S/CB Dax Hill (No. 31, Cincinnati)

McDuffie, Walker, Elam, Lloyd and Hill were some of the most popular Patriots choices in media-produced mock drafts, and Johnson was projected to come off the board long before No. 21. McDuffie, the third cornerback taken after Derek Stingley Jr. and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner both went in the top five, wasn’t expected to fall to New England, either, but was viewed as an excellent fit if he did. The Jaguars reportedly traded up to No. 27 for Lloyd specifically to jump ahead of the Patriots.

Even if Strange becomes a rock-solid starter for the Patriots, fans won’t be pleased if any of those six players develop into stars for their new teams.

The trade yielded New England one extra pick in the third round (No. 94) and another in Round 4 (No. 121).

4. Thursday night helped illustrate why the Patriots opted to trade for DeVante Parker earlier this month.

Six wide receivers went in the top 18 picks — with Detroit and New Orleans making aggressive trade-ups for Chris Olave and Jameson Williams, respectively — and two more veteran wideouts were traded for first-rounders: A.J. Brown to Philadelphia and Marquise Brown to Arizona. Matt Groh wasn’t wrong when he said teams hoping to acquire top-end receiver talent need to be “proactive.” The NFL-wide value of receivers is at an all-time high.

Parker isn’t a superstar, but he should be a big boost to the Patriots’ offense if he can stay healthy, and he was reasonably affordable, both in terms of compensation (New England gave up a 2023 third-rounder for him and a 2022 fifth) and contract value ($6 million cap hit this season).

5. This year’s draft is believed to be especially strong on Day 2, and the Patriots now own three Friday selections (Nos. 54, 85 and 94), plus two more within the first 22 picks of Day 3 (Nos. 121 and 127) and an additional five over the final three rounds.

Now well-stocked with ammunition after a pair of trades — one with Houston earlier this week and then the one with Kansas City on Thursday — Belichick said more deals could be forthcoming.

“We’ll go back (Friday), we’ll restack our board just like we did a few hours ago going into the first round,” said Belichick, who’s made an NFL-high 84 draft-day trades since 2000. “We’ll take a look at the projected draft order and so forth and who’s around us. We have a number of picks, so we probably have some flexibility with what we could do over the next two days — different than what we had a few hours ago going into the draft — and try to see what our options are.

“I’m sure we’ll hear from other teams or have some type of communication with other teams, and maybe that factors into what we do, or maybe it doesn’t. We’ll have to wait and see what that is and how it presents itself.”

There are plenty of intriguing targets still available, particularly at linebacker; Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, Alabama’s Christian Harris, Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal, Wyoming’s Chad Muma and Montana State’s Troy Anderson all would make sense for New England.

Other potential Day 2 targets at positions of need include:

Cornerback
Andrew Booth, Clemson
Kyler Gordon, Washington
Roger McCreary, Auburn
Tariq Woolen, UTSA
Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State
Marcus Jones, Houston

Wide receiver
Skyy Moore, Western Michigan
Christian Watson, North Dakota State
John Metchie, Alabama
George Pickens, Georgia
Alec Pierce, Cincinnati
Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama
Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky
Khalil Shakir, Boise State

Edge rusher
Boye Mafe, Minnesota
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
Josh Paschal, Kentucky
David Ojabo, Michigan
Drake Jackson, USC

Defensive line
Travis Jones, UConn
Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma
Logan Hall, Houston
DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Phidarian Mathis, Alabama

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