Ranking the Patriots rookies by projected impact in 2022

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The New England Patriots seemed to address a handful of positions of need during the course of the 2022 NFL draft, so it’s possible that multiple rookies will have an immediate impact in the coming season.

But the Patriots also added a large number of mid- and late-round picks, who rarely make an impact in Year 1. New England also added players at crowded roster spots like running back, receiver and cornerback. While those spots (aside from RB) looked like they lacked a No. 1 option, the Patriots actually have a fair amount of depth — especially after the draft.

So let’s evaluate the incoming class to see where the Patriots might get contributions.

17 through 11: The undrafted rookies

D’Eriq King, WR/RB, Miami
Brenden Schooler, S, Texas
Jake Julien, P, Eastern Michigan
DaMarcus Mitchell, LB, Purdue
Liam Shanahan, IOL, LSU
Kody Russey, C, Houston
LaBryan Ray, DT, Alabama

Let’s lump the undrafted free agents together here. I like Ray’s chances of making the roster for obvious reasons. He is one of the few defensive tackles that the team has added over the course of the offseason. And he’s an Alabama prospect who dealt with a long list of injuries. If the Patriots get him healthy, maybe New England can get him on the field.

I’m not sure Shanahan or Russey will make the roster — but the Patriots are clearly interested in adding depth at center. And if one makes it and David Andrews gets hurt, then they’ll be crucially important players.

King will be a fascinating player to watch as the Patriots experiment with his position. But he doesn’t have the elite athletic traits when compared to Julian Edelman. It’s best to temper expectations.

10. Bailey Zappe, QB, fourth round

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As much as Zappe is a compelling prospect — and I’m one of the few people that liked the pick — I don’t suspect he’s going to see the field at all in 2022 for the Patriots. New England will likely roster Brian Hoyer as the backup. Even if the Patriots will probably part ways with Jarrett Stidham, that makes Zappe into QB3. He’s going to watch and learn this year.

9. Andrew Stueber, OT, seventh round

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Stueber will compete against Justin Herron and others to serve as the team’s third offensive tackle. New England uses OT3 often in jumbo packages — and the Patriots might deploy even more of those in 2022 after removing the fullback job from their roster.

While that role is a fairly significant one, it’s hard to imagine Stueber taking it over considering the competition at the position.

8. Chasen Hines, OG, sixth round

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On one hand, the Patriots badly need a starting guard. Hines will be a part of that competition. On the other hand, the Patriots drafted a guard in Round 1 and they have James Ferentz as a depth option. Hines is certainly an underdog to make the roster — let alone get on the field.

7. Kevin Harris, RB, sixth round

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Harris seems like a safe bet to make the team. He and J.J. Taylor are likely to compete for that final slot in the running back room. But if James White needs time to get back on the field — starting the year on PUP or IR — then maybe Harris slides easily onto the roster with Taylor.

Either way, Harris isn’t likely to have a big impact in 2022. The sluggish power running back will be at the bottom of a rotation that includes bruisers Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson.

6. Sam Roberts, DT, sixth round

Roberts is a versatile defensive lineman who is joining a group that underachieved in 2022. Matthew Judon was brilliant (though his performance declined slightly at the end of the year). But defensive linemen Davon Godcahux, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise were … fine. New England surely wanted more.

So it will be interesting if Roberts, who won the Cliff Harris Award to honor the small college defensive player of the year, can sneak into the rotation. For content, Kyle Dugger won that same award. It’s a legit honor.

5. Pierre Strong, RB, fourth round

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Strong makes for a tough projection for 2022 considering how many players sit above him on the depth chart. In order to get touches, Strong will need to jockey with Damien Harris, Stevenson, White, Kevin Harris, Ty Montgomery and Taylor. That’s not easy. But the Patriots said they wanted to get faster and they will do that not just by drafting Strong but by putting him on the field with their offense.

I suspect they will bring him into the mix this season, whether he’s running between the tackles or catching screen passes.

4. Marcus Jones, CB, third round

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The Patriots drafted Marcus Jones higher than his position-mate Jack Jones, but I think Jack will make a bigger impact in Year 1. More on that in a second. Marcus Jones will have to beat out Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant for a role in the slot, and that’s probably not happening right away — not unless Jonathan looks less capable after his shoulder injury.

Then why is he so high on this ranking? Jones will likely be the return man for the team in 2022 and he’ll be helping out in every phase of special teams.

3. Tyquan Thornton, WR, second round

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Receivers rarely make an impact in Year 1 in New England’s system. So that’s one thing that might count against Thornton. The Patriots also have a pair of outside receivers that are ahead of Thornton: Parker and Agholor. In terms of skillset, Agholor and Thornton are the closest match. But considering Agholor’s struggles in 2021, Thornton may be able to surpass the veteran over the course of 2022. And again, Thornton is a speedster and the Patriots want to get faster. That only happens if they put him on the field.

2. Jack Jones, CB, fourth round

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Jones slipped into the fourth round because of small frame (175 pounds) and his history of an arrest and academic dismissal from USC. But at ASU, he was a sticky cornerback with impressive athletic traits. Jones has demonstrated he has matured past his early struggles during his college career. So long as he can handle the rigors of New England, he is likely to ascent quickly on a depth chart that lacks top-end talent. Maybe Jack Jones is rotating with Malcolm Butler and Jalen Mills as early as Week 1.

1. Cole Strange, OG, first round

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Strange is the only player who projects as an immediate starter on Day 1. The rest of the draft class looks like developmental and depth players. Not Strange. He’s going to likely be projecting Mac Jones in Week 1 at left guard, the spot where Ted Karras and Joe Thueny played.

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