Many, especially those assessing the performance of the New England Patriots, think about the NFL draft in terms of binaries.
Good or bad? Pass or fail? Value or — everyone’s new favorite word — reach?
But the truth is, the draft is much like football itself: full of nuance.
You’d be hard-pressed to find positive feedback on what the Patriots did last weekend in Las Vegas. From using a first-round pick on an FCS guard to taking a wicked smart quarterback in Round 4, New England’s moves in the 2022 draft left fans, experts and hot-take artists scratching their heads.
So, what’s it all mean? Well, it definitely means something, as many of the pundits commenting on the Patriots do know a lot about football and the draft, and people aren’t automatically wrong just because their name isn’t Bill Belichick. However, it’s worth trying to maintain some perspective while navigating this minefield of anti-Patriots negativity.
With that in mind, here are five thoughts on New England’s NFL draft performance that all can be true (doesn’t mean they are):
1. Cole Strange might be a great player
At the very least, the Chattanooga product figures to be a starting-caliber interior offensive lineman, if not better.
“We liked him a lot,” an NFC personnel executive told NESN.com last week. “Saw him more as a Day 2 guy but he’s definitely a starter in our league at center/guard. Smart, tough and great kid.”
The reviews of Strange as a player are almost universally positive. Lauded for his toughness, athleticism, leadership and overall skill, Strange is viewed as someone who immediately could start at guard and potentially move to center after a few years. Plus, given New England’s track record of developing interior linemen, it’s easy to envision Strange turning into the next great Patriots guard. He might even be David Andrews’ eventual replacement.
2. The Patriots didn’t need to draft a guard in Round 1
With real needs across the roster, the Patriots could’ve waited until later in the draft to target a Ted Karras/Shaq Mason replacement. Maybe that player would’ve been Strange, who reportedly could’ve been available in Round 2 and potentially Round 3, or maybe it would’ve been someone else. Either way, history suggests New England would’ve been just fine had it grabbed a guard later on.
Consider this: Guards/centers Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and David Andrews all won Super Bowls despite going undrafted. Bryan Stork, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason all got rings despite being drafted in Round 3 or later. You easily could argue the Patriots should’ve gone with a different position in the first round.
3. New England didn’t maximize value in the draft
The Patriots certainly made some high-value plays. Analytics say they toruched the Kansas City Chiefs with their first-round trade, and sending a third-round pick to the Carolina Panthers for a fourth-rounder and a 2023 third-rounder was a good move, too. You also could include last month’s DeVante Parker trade, which saw New England deal a 2023 third-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for Parker and a 2022 fifth-rounder, which the Patriots then moved in a pre-draft trade with the Houston Texans, who surrendered a sixth- and seventh-round pick in this year’s draft.
That’s all well and good. But what New England actually did with its picks in the 2022 draft is a different story.
We already have been over the Strange pick. But trading up in the second round for receiver Tyquan Thornton, on whom some experts placed fifth-round grade, also was confusing. The Patriots also reached a bit in using a fourth-round pick on cornerback Jack Jones, whose off-field concerns left him as a projected late-round pick. As for taking quarterback Bailey Zappe in the fourth round, the decision shouldn’t surprise anyone, but could it have been made in the fifth round? Well, yeah, except New England gave up its only fifth-round pick in the trade with Houston.
No matter how you slice it, the Patriots deserve criticism for their handling of the draft board.
4. At the end of the day, the draft is about getting good players
If Strange becomes a Pro Bowl lineman and the ultra-fast Thornton emerges as a top wideout, nobody will say anything about the Patriots “reaching” in this draft. And that’s to say nothing of third-round corner Marcus Jones, who projects as an immediate, dynamic contributor, and fourth-round running back Pierre Strong Jr., who could be the next James White. Maybe Zappe becomes the next Brian Hoyer (don’t laugh, there’s value in that). Some people have compared sixth-round pick Chasen Hines to Mike Onwenu.
The Patriots have received high marks for the job they did in last year’s draft, and deservedly so. But outside of Mac Jones, Rhamondre Stevenson and Christian Barmore, the jury remains out on the rest of New England’s eight-player class. If the Patriots really hit on two or three players — Thornton, ideally — much of the negativity will go away.
5. No one, including the Patriots, knows how they did in this draft
The Mel Kipers of the world killed the Patriots for what they did in the draft, but we’re talking about the same guy who placed top 20 grades on Nakobe Dean and Malik Willis, both of whom went in the third round. With all due respect to sports talk radio hosts, what do they know about Chattanooga guards?
Many people hate this Patriots draft class; others believe it’s underrated. There are reports that Strange and Thornton would’ve gone early in Round 2 had New England not pounced; other reports indicate New England was way too aggressive. A laughing fit from Sean McVay, who got pantsed in a Super Bowl by Belichick, is being used as ammunition against the Patriots.
It’s an unrealistic request, but perhaps we all should take a deep breath and wait a year (maybe two) before placing grades on any of this.
Bonus: Belichick clearly doesn’t care what anybody outside of Gillette Stadium thinks.