Grading the rookie class at Patriots minicamp

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NFL fans and pundits have shared their opinions about the Patriots' 2022 NFL Draft selections and many members of that 10-player class did not earn high grades. Of course, none of that matters, since it’s impossible to grade a draft class before you see the players suit up for regular-season games..

This much-maligned rookie class, however, is off to a solid start. This offseason, media members watched four total practices between organized team activities, or OTAs, and minicamp. It appears that the Patriots have found several players who could make an impact. Although we had only a brief glimpse of these players, several impressed this spring. The real test will be when pads are put on during training camp, which starts on July 27.

'That's how we grow': Inside Bill Belichick's hands-on approach in Patriots practice

Here’s a recap of what we saw from the Patriots' draft class this spring:

The Patriots' first-round draft pick, offensive lineman Cole Strange, lines up in a three-point stance for a drill during OTAs in May.
The Patriots' first-round draft pick, offensive lineman Cole Strange, lines up in a three-point stance for a drill during OTAs in May.

Cole Strange, guard

The Patriots' first-round pick was not made without controversy. Draft pundits considered Strange a reach at the 29th selection overall. Strange, however, looks like he’ll make an immediate impact. This offseason, he was inserted at left guard next to starting center David Andrews. That feels similar to Logan Mankins’ story. Mankins also was considered a reach in the first round but he started immediately. Strange has a great opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong and the Patriots right. So far, the team must be happy since Strange looks like a Day 1 starter.

Speedy receiver Tyquan Thornton, the Pats' second-round draft pick, runs a drill during OTAs in May.
Speedy receiver Tyquan Thornton, the Pats' second-round draft pick, runs a drill during OTAs in May.

Tyquan Thornton, wide receiver

The Patriots offense clearly needed more speed and Thornton was one of the fastest players in the 2022 NFL Draft. The second-round pick, however, has four veterans clearly ahead of him on the depth chart in Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor. Thornton caught seven passes in team drills this spring but only one from No. 1 quarterback Mac Jones. The Patriots also worked him as a gunner on special teams. That could be a key for the rookie with so many veteran receivers on the roster.

Tyquan Thornton breaks the mold.: Will the rookie change the Patriots fortune at receiver?

Cornerback Marcus Jones, the Patriots' third-round pick, is coming off surgery but should compete for the backup cornerback spot.
Cornerback Marcus Jones, the Patriots' third-round pick, is coming off surgery but should compete for the backup cornerback spot.

Marcus Jones, cornerback

Jones, the Patriots' third-round pick, is working his way back from surgery on both shoulders. During practices, he was wearing a red non-contact jersey. Jones was limited to position drills at the beginning of each practice and didn’t really participate during team drills. This summer, he’s expected to compete for the backup slot cornerback spot behind Jonathan Jones. He’s also a leader to be the Patriots’ top kickoff and punt returner. He could be fun to watch.

Previously from Patriots minicamp: Who's up and who's down? Here are your winners and losers

Despite being only a fourth-round draft pick, cornerback Jack Jones may be ready to start for the Patriots.
Despite being only a fourth-round draft pick, cornerback Jack Jones may be ready to start for the Patriots.

Jack Jones, cornerback

The Patriots' fourth-round pick also was considered a reach by draft pundits, but Jones didn’t look out of place during OTAs or in minicamp. He looked like a potential steal. He was placed opposite Jalen Mills at cornerback. That seemed noteworthy. The same could be said for his practice performance. Jones intercepted rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, deflected another pass and then forced a fumble by Agholor. After Strange, Jones is the next-best rookie candidate to start for the Patriots this season.

Pierre Strong Jr., running back

The Patriots have great depth at running back with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson leading the group. An obvious spot for Strong to fill would be the third-down back position. The Pats have James White working his way back from a hip injury. The team also brought in veteran Ty Montgomery. Strong caught only two passes this spring, from Zappe, so he might not make an immediate impact. He also practiced as a returner, which could be his way to get on the game-day roster.

Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe, a fourth-round draft pick, throws during minicamp in early June.
Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe, a fourth-round draft pick, throws during minicamp in early June.

Bailey Zappe, quarterback

Drafted in the fourth round, Zappe is clearly behind Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer on the depth chart. He worked with the third-team offense in the spring — and that wasn’t a surprise. He showed off a strong arm but needs to work on accuracy and touch. He threw a team-high two interceptions this spring while completing 67% of his passes (22  of 33) in team drills. For comparison, Jones completed 87% (59 of 68) and Hoyer 73% (30 of 41) this spring.

With so much depth at the running back position, Kevin Harris, seen here during minicamp in early June, will be hard-pressed to make the team.
With so much depth at the running back position, Kevin Harris, seen here during minicamp in early June, will be hard-pressed to make the team.

Kevin Harris, running back

Harris is a dark horse to make the 53-man roster. He’s behind Damien Harris, Stevenson, Montgomery, J.J. Taylor and Strong on the depth chart. We charted him for one reception this spring. The running back position, however, is tough to analyze when the pads aren’t on. A sixth-round pick, Harris will need a strong training camp and preseason to preserve a roster spot.

Defensive end Sam Roberts, seen here during minicamp in early June, is behind several veterans for a roster spot.
Defensive end Sam Roberts, seen here during minicamp in early June, is behind several veterans for a roster spot.

Sam Roberts, defensive end

A small-school prospect from Northwest Missouri State, Roberts would be a great story if he were to make the Patriots' 53-man roster. The sixth-round pick is behind the likes of Deatrich Wise, Matt Judon and Henry Anderson on the depth chart. This is another position that’s tough to analyze when contact isn’t allowed. Roberts has the chance to impress this summer. He’ll also need to show special-teams versatility to land on the 53-man roster.

Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber, offensive line

We never saw Hines or Stueber at OTAs or minicamp. It appeared that both players were recuperating from injuries. There’s room for a young guard like Hines to make the 53-man roster. He’d have to show versatility and beat out the likes of Drew Desjarlais and Arlington Hambright. The tackle position has more competition. Stueber will be competing with backups Justin Herron, Yasir Durant, Yodny Cajuste and Will Sherman this summer.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Who stood out in the rookie class at Patriots minicamp