Why Patriots Drafting Cole Strange In First Round Feels Like Major Reach

It was a ... strange selection

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The fact that New England’s 2022 draft class featured Cole Strange was no surprise. The Chattanooga offensive lineman was viewed as a natural fit for the Patriots, who had a glaring need at his primary position.

But Strange as the headliner of that class? As a first-round pick? That was a wholly unexpected development that quickly drew the ire of Patriots fans.

Strange, an FCS standout who impressed at the 2022 Senior Bowl and aced his workout at the NFL Scouting Combine, was widely viewed as a Day 2 prospect.

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had him 73rd on his Top 100 Big Board. NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah ranked him 74th overall. Pro Football Focus, 86th. Here at NESN.com, we had the Patriots taking him at Nos. 90 and No. 85 in a pair of pre-draft mocks, including one published Thursday morning. Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead openly laughed when Strange’s name was called, with McVay saying they thought he might be available at No. 104.

The Patriots took Strange at No. 29 overall, choosing him over notable defensive prospects like versatile defensive back Dax Hill, cornerbacks Andrew Booth and Kyler Gordon, linebacker Nakobe Dean, defensive tackle Travis Jones and edge rusher George Karlaftis.

The trade down from No. 21 that preceded the Strange pick — which yielded them extra selections in the third (94th) and fourth rounds (121st) — caused them to miss out on corners Trent McDuffie (21st, Kansas City) and Kaiir Elam (23rd, Buffalo) and linebackers Quay Walker (22nd, Green Bay) and Devin Lloyd (27th, Jacksonville), all of whom would have filled obvious New England needs. Edge rusher Jermaine Johnson also went 26th overall to the New York Jets after a surprising first-round slide.

Though Strange does patch the Patriots’ most obvious roster hole, their decision to take him in Round 1 will be heavily scrutinized in the weeks and months to come, especially if any of those aforementioned defenders emerge as stars for their teams. The pick also is a pivot from New England’s usual M.O., as Bill Belichick hadn’t used a first-round pick on an interior O-lineman since drafting Logan Mankins 32nd overall in 2005.

In fact, every single regular iOL starter for the Patriots since Mankins left in 2014 was drafted in the third round or later, or went undrafted:

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

What are the Patriots getting in Strange, though?

As mentioned, he’s a player who checks a lot of Belichick boxes. He’s highly experienced with 42 collegiate starts at left guard, plus one at center and one at left tackle, and though all of those came at Division I’s lower level, he acquitted himself well against top-tier competition at the Senior Bowl, a la Kyle Dugger ahead of the 2020 draft. In 11 games last season, he allowed just one sack, one quarterback hit and three hurries, per PFF.

Strange also was a team captain and six-time Academic All-Conference selection, and he’s one of the most athletic linemen in this year’s draft. Brugler’s 2022 draft guide praises his “outstanding football character.”

Again, he fits. But drafting him dozens of spots higher than most experts had him projected? When there were a number of potential impact defenders there for the taking? That’s … puzzling, to say the least.

Belichick, though, clearly valued Strange and, according to him didn’t believe the Patriots would have been able to snag him in the later rounds.

“He wouldn’t have lasted much longer,” the Patriots head coach said in his virtual post-draft news conference.

Whether that was actually the case, we’ll never know.

The Patriots will have an opportunity to fill some of their other most glaring needs (namely cornerback and linebacker) on Day 2, where they now own one second-round pick (No. 54) and two third-rounders (Nos. 85 and 94). Booth, Gordon, Dean and Jones all are still on the board, and there is a lengthy list of still-available ‘backers that includes Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal, Alabama’s Christian Harris, Wyoming’s Chad Muma, Montana State’s Troy Andersen and Georgia’s Channing Tindall.

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay
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