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The New England Patriots put together a 2022 draft class that drew mixed reviews from analysts. But Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh seemed content with what he and Bill Belichick assembled this weekend. They added a Day 1 starter at guard (Cole Strange), which solves the team’s biggest problem. They added depth at cornerback (Marcus Jones, Jack Jones), with two additions to the position who should contribute this season. And they added three skill players (receiver Tyquan Thornton and running backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris) to help Mac Jones’ ascent.
Maybe the Patriots didn’t get impressive value. But if they hit (despite the skepticism), the rookies should be impactful. So let’s get into greater detail, with everything you need to know.
Round 1, Pick 29: Cole Strange, OG, Chattanooga
Breakdown: You’ve probably heard the criticism by now. Many thought Strange was a likely third-rounder. Some had him as a second-rounder — not unlike tackle Isaiah Wynn and safety Devin McCourty. The 23-year-old is 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds and likely to start at left guard, though he does have the flexibility to help out at tackle and center. If he is the Day 1 starter and maybe even a Pro Bowler someday, then no one will care that the Patriots
“overdrafted” him. That said, those are lofty goals for any rookie.
Brugler’s scouting report: “Strange, who is attempting to become the first Chattanooga player to be drafted in the top five rounds since Terrell Owens in 1996, commanded the NFL’s attention with his 2021 performance vs. Kentucky, and he again rose to the occasion at the Senior Bowl, showing his versatility at both center and guard. His hands and feet need to be on time or defenders will take advantage, which will drastically lower his margin for error vs. NFL power. Overall, Strange struggles to recover once defenders gain the upper hand, but he works hard to stay balanced with his quick feet, strong hands and competitive toughness. He will be ready to compete for an NFL starting job (guard or center) in year one.”
They said it: “We’re really excited to have Cole aboard. You want to talk about value, the guy started at three positions on the offensive line. I think it’s kind of easy to pigeonhole him as a guard. He does a lot. This guy is really tough. He’s really smart. He’s almost 6’5″, 300 pounds, and runs sub-5 seconds in the 40. There’s not a lot of humans out there that are doing that, benched 225, 31 times. This is a really big, strong, tough, athletic guy. If you value toughness, which we do, you value guys like Cole Strange.” -Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh
Round 2, Pick 50: Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor
Breakdown: Don’t compare Thornton to N’Keal Harry. Thornton is a skinny, speedy wideout. Maybe they play the same position: boundary receiver. But they play it in very different ways. Thornton relies upon his length and speed of foot to create separation and, as the fastest receiver at the NFL combine, he is a tough player for cornerbacks to keep in check. He’s not brilliant at making defenders miss, but he is hard to catch. Thornton has small hands, but in his final college season, he demonstrated he is great at plucking the ball out of the air away from his body. Again, maybe he was a reach in the second round. But he’s a compelling prospect who could be special if developed properly.
Brugler’s scouting report: “Thornton has legit vertical speed (he had a full-ride scholarship to run track at LSU out of high school) to get overtop coverage and win down the field (seven receptions of 40-plus yards in 2021). He made key improvements as a senior in terms of finishing grabs through contact, but he can be taken out of commission early when press corners connect (smallest hands and skinniest wrists in the draft). Overall, Thornton will have a tougher time masking his lack of build or play strength vs. NFL competition, but his speed plays at any level, and his mid-air adjustment skills could be what keep him on an NFL roster.”
They said it: “ I don’t know how many guys out there are faster than Tyquan. So, we’re really excited to be able to add him and his explosive playmaking. He is fast. To be able to get some toughness and some athleticism on the first night, and I think these other two guys, Tyquan and Marcus Jones, they’re certainly tough guys, too, but at their positions, at the skill positions, they are fast.” -Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh
Round 3, Pick 85: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
Breakdown: Both the Patriots and draft analysts agreed Jones was good value in the third round. Jones was widely considered a second- or third-round prospect with one flaw: his height. He’s 5-foot-8, and so the versatility he showed in college — and both an outside and slot cornerback — may not translate to the pros. With the Patriots, he’ll likely play almost exclusively in the slot. He’ll have to pass Jonathan Jones on the depth chart, which may not happen until Jones’ contract expires in 2023. In the meantime, Marcus Jones will surely serve as a return man, where he was excellent in college.
Brugler’s scouting report: “Jones scored a touchdown four ways in college (reception, interception, kick return, punt return) and tied the NCAA record with nine career kickoff/punt return touchdowns. He has the lower-body twitch to mirror, match and make easy transitions in coverage, finishing with noticeable closing burst. Overall, Jones is small on paper but big on tape with sticky cover athleticism, physical compete skills and excellent on-ball production. He is a tailor-made slot cornerback in the NFL with playmaking ability as a return man.”
They said it: “Marcus has done even more (than Cole Strange in terms of versatility) you could say since he’s been on both sides of the ball, primarily at corner, inside, outside, even with his play making ability, trying to get the ball in his hands. You’re talking about a team in Houston that’s been — Coach Holgorsen has had really good teams there and been able to put up a lot of points, and this guy (Jones) was dynamic enough that they take one of their best players on defense and put him on offense, and then they put him back there on punt returns and kick returns.” -Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh
RAS card: (EDITOR’S NOTE: Marcus Jones did not participate in any pre-draft testing after undergoing surgery to both his shoulders.)
Round 4, Pick 121: Jack Jones, CB, ASU
Breakdown: Here’s a classic project for Bill Belichick. Jones is a freakishly sticky coverage player whose breakdowns on the field seem fixable with coaching, particularly when you look at the Patriots’ history of bringing the best out of a player like Jones. During his college career, Jones seemed to spiral, with USC dismissing him for academic issues. He then was charged and arrested for burglary. But since he returned to DI football with ASU, he seems to have matured.
Brugler’s scouting report: “Although his guessing will get him in trouble, Jones is proven catch-point disruptor because of his sticky cover skills and ability to innately find the football (38 passes defended in his final 39 games in college). Everyone knows he is undersized except for him, but he will struggle to win body position against NFL size and accuracy. Overall, his lack of size and discipline (on and off the field) create doubt about his next level future, but his short-area agility, ball instincts and compete skills are NFL-worthy traits.”
They said it: “I feel like I’ve been watching Jack Jones for a while now, following his career. That’s what happens with some of these highly touted recruits. We’ve spent a lot of time with Jack to try and get comfortable and understand the different situations that he’s felt, and feel good about kind of getting to know him and understanding those situations to have a process in place to be able to add him to our program.” -Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh
Round 4, Pick 127: Pierre Strong, RB, South Dakota
Breakdown: This pick made a lot of sense (before the team doubled up at RB which felt like overkill). Strong is a slasher between the tackles, with an impressive ability to weave through the box with a rare combination of agility and speed. (He was the fastest running back at the NFL combine.) Do the Patriots need an RB in 2022? No. But if Damien Harris is leaving in 2023 and James White isn’t the same player after his hip surgery, then maybe strong ends up a massive part of the offense in the near future.
Brugler’s scouting report: “Strong averaged an impressive 7.2 yards per carry during his career, mostly vs. FCS competition, but had no trouble running all over Colorado State on his 2021 tape (his only FBS opponent the past two seasons). He has home run ability when he finds the runway (30 runs of 15-plus yards) and creates conflict for second-level defenders with his ability to shake, rattle and roll. Overall, Strong doesn’t have ideal build or contact balance, which might limit his pro ceiling, but he runs with speed, tempo and controlled feet to follow his blocks to daylight, especially on outside zone. He has potential as a third-down or committee back in the right situation.”
They said it: “” -Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh
Round 4, Pick 137: Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky
Breakdown: Step aside, Jarrett Stidham. There appears to be a new, young backup in town. While the Patriots seem interested in keeping Brian Hoyer around as a mentor and QB2, New England apparently wants to continue drafted and developing quarterbacks as an investment in the future. Zappe may someday push Mac Joes — but it’s highly unlikely the Western Kentucky prospect ever supplants him. With three fourth-round picks, the Patriots must have decided Zappe was worth an investment. Maybe he is worth a fourth-rounder now, but in two or three years, the Patriots can flip him for a third- or second-rounder.
Brugler’s scouting report: “With the offense ingrained in him, Zappe was a rhythmic decision-maker in college and knew where to go with the football and how to stay on time. But his average arm strength and inconsistencies when asked to anticipate or make full-field reads will be tough to overcome vs. NFL speed. Overall, there is nothing explosive about his arm or legs, but Zappe has a natural feel for touch and trajectory with the mind/intangibles that will smooth his transition to the NFL. He projects favorably to Case Keenum and should be a longtime NFL backup and possible spot-starter.” -Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh
They said it: “You put on the film of Bailey Zappe and it’s hard not to like him. It’s a lot of completions, it’s a lot of touchdown passes, and it’s a lot of wins. This guy is a winner, the way he’s able to lead and command his team. He’s got a lot of great traits that you want in a quarterback. Most importantly, success, with the way he’s able to produce on the field and do what’s right for the team and get the ball to the playmakers, which he was fortunate enough to have at Houston Baptist and at Western Kentucky. Coach Helton gave him a lot of responsibility, and he really did a great job for his teams.”
Round 6, Pick 183: Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina
Breakdown: The Patriots picked up an old-school, no-nonsense runner in Kevin Harris. As a sixth-round pick, there are no guarantees he makes the team, particularly in a group that’s this crowded. But the Patriots have to like his rare blend of size and short-area explosiveness. He’s not going to run 80-yard touchdowns. He’s not going to juke linebackers. But Harris gets going like a bowling ball and beats up defenses. He also had just one career fumble, which the Patriots can appreciate.
Brugler’s scouting report: “Harris is a strong, balanced runner who keeps his pads square to the line of scrimmage. His vision and ball security (one career fumble) are strengths to his game, but his burst is inconsistent, and his poor change-of-direction skills hinder his ability to sink or cut away from trouble. His inconsistent tendencies on passing downs must improve. Overall, Harris has a physical appetite and hammers what is blocked for him, but his monotone speed and bland creativity lower his next-level ceiling.”
They said it: “When you see the value in adding a good piece to your team at that position with the way those guys — you know, how physical this game is, you can never have enough good guys to hand the ball off to. This guy is a really strong runner, so we’re happy to add him to the team.” -Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh
Round 6, Pick 200: Sam Roberts, DT, Northwest Missouri State
Breakdown: As you can see, we don’t have a report from Dane Brugler. And Matt Groh didn’t get to address Roberts after the draft. Perhaps that’s because expectations are minimal for the DII product, even after winning the 2021 Cliff Harris Award as the best small college defensive player. He’s a good athlete with a long way to go before contributing at the NFL level. Maybe he makes the roster, but it seems more likely he lands on the practice squad.
Round 6, Pick 210: Chasen Hines, guard, LSU
Breakdown: He started every game during his final season at LSU. That’s more than most sixth-round picks can say. Hines, however, dealt with conditioning issues that hindered his quality of play. He excels as a pulling guard but struggles when coming out of his stance.
Brugler’s scouting report: “Hines is a naturally wide blocker with the mobility to pull and trap and the brute force to create movement at contact. He has initial quickness to play from out in front, but his mirroring skills (both his hands and feet) must improve vs. NFL competition. Overall, Hines has sloppy tendencies and must maintain his conditioning for peak performance, but his explosive movements and length are traits worth drafting and developing. He projects best in a power scheme in the NFL because of his frame and pulling skills.”
Round 7, Pick 245: Andrew Stueber, OT, Michigan
Breakdown: Stueber’s career may depend upon his ability to transition to guard, even though the prospect is a hulking 6-foot-6, 325 pounds. That’s what most draft analysts seem to think about him. But I’m not sure that’s where he’ll start his career. He is much bigger than most Patriots guards, so perhaps the Patriots will give him some run at tackle to test his athleticism. If he flunks, then they’ll try guard. And if he flunks again, he’ll be off the team.
Brugler’s scouting report: “Stueber is assignment sound in pass protection with the hands and response time to combat what rushers throw at him. He is a functional run blocker and creates movement on down blocks, but he has some stiffness in his lower body and must improve his pad level to create movement. Overall, Stueber has NFL size, length and smarts, but he doesn’t have the athleticism to hold up at tackle and needs to improve his balance and sustain skills to earn a living at guard. He has the potential to be a dependable backup who can step in and hold his own if asked to pinch-hit as a starting guard.”