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In many ways, the New England Patriots made a number of predictable moves during the 2022 NFL draft. They plugged a hole on the offensive line with a first-round pick at guard (Chattanooga’s Cole Strange). They added a developmental receiver who will have time to learn the playbook behind the Patriots’ deep group. And they added not one but two cornerbacks to the seemingly lacking group. They also secured a third-round draft pick for 2023. (Bonus points!) In that sense, the draft was impressive, with the team skipping over only the tackle position, where they might need a replacement for Isaiah Wynn in 2023.
Of course, that narrative ignores the Patriots disregard for value. Just about every one of their picks was a reach when looking at the boards of draft analysts. So it will be interesting to see — as these rookies’ careers develop — whether the Patriots were right and everyone else was wrong.
In the meantime, let’s evaluate the immediate winners and losers.
Winner: QB Mac Jones
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The Patriots aggressively targetted a starting guard for Jones is Round 1 when they drafted Cole Strange. Though the pick was ultimately controversial — with many analysts agreeing Strange looked like a second-rounder — New England wouldn’t have taken him unless it thought he would start on Day 1. That’s just how it works for them.
So that’s good news for Jones, who definitely didn’t want to stand behind an offensive line that included James Ferentz. Strange will be an upgrade at left guard, so that the Patriots can feel good about their line again.
Loser: WR Nelson Agholor
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Last season, Agholor played 64% of snaps (707 snaps total) but logged just 37 catches, 473 yards and three touchdowns. It was an inefficient season for the receiver who led the team in earnings at $11 million per year.
It’s fair to continue wondering whether the Patriots might trade him during training camp — especially if DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton emerge as useful weapons. The Patriots know that Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne are impactful players. So New England — with two impressive tight ends — may not have room for snaps for the trio of Parker, Thornton and Agholor. If Thornton looks lost in Year 1, then maybe Agholor and Parker split snaps through 2022.
But it seems likely that those three will compete for snaps. And it’s possible Agholor loses his path to the field. Then what?
Winner: TE Jonnu Smith
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During a few mock drafts, I suggested the Patriots might draft a tight end whose style is similar to Smith. Why? Well, he simply could not figure out his role in the offense in 2022. New England is not paying him Top 3 money among tight ends to finish with 28 catches 294 yards and one touchdown.
Well, New England stuck with what they’ve got at tight end. And that’s good news for Smith, whose production needs to skyrocket to justify his salary.
Loser: RB Damien Harris
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The Patriots seem to really like Harris, who elevated into a leadership role in 2022 while Jones battled through the complications of a rookie season. New England, however, isn’t likely to give a second contract to Harris.
The Patriots drafted South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong and South Carolina running Kevin Harris. Strong is a between-the-tackles slasher with elite speed and developmental pass-catching abilities. Harris is a big-bodied bruiser.
Strong will likely eat into Damien Harris’ touches in 2022. It seems New England is planning for his departure in 2023 when his contract expires.
Winner: LT Isaiah Wynn
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Speaking of expiring contracts, the Patriots do not have any leverage when it comes to Wynn’s deal. He’s on the final year of his deal, and when healthy, has been a very solid option on the edge. The caveat — “when healthy” — is a substantial uncertainty. He has not played a complete NFL season. That’s a tough player to invest in the future. But consider this: the Patriots are not investing in the tackle position in the draft.
2022, Round 6: Andrew Stueber (probably a guard)
2022, Round 6: Willian Sherman (probably a guard)
2020, Round 6: Justin Herron
2019, Round 3: Yodny Cajuste
So perhaps Wynn has a better shot at earning an extension. Left tackle is one of the most difficult spots to plug in a starter. If they still think they might part ways with Wynn in 2023, then maybe they’re thinking they can 1) pay for one in free agency, 2) draft one in Round 1 (which is a stretch) or 3) move Trent Brown to the left side and find the less-elusive right tackle.
That sounds like a difficult problem to solve. So maybe they think they already have their solution on the roster: Wynn.
Loser: WR N'Keal Harry
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We pretty much know he won’t be on the Patriots in 2022. His agent is trying desperately to get Harry onto a new team. And if there was any opportunity for New England to deal him, it was this weekend. But apparently, Harry didn’t have any suitors. So the receiver will have to wait to learn where he’ll play next season.
Winner: CBs coach Mike Pellegrino
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New England doubled up at cornerback with a third- and fourth-round pick at the position. The Patriots added a slot option in Marcus Jones, who should also serve as a returner on special teams. New England also added Jack Jones, who is a truly impressive cover corner. He had academic and legal issues in college, but the Patriots seem confident those issues are behind him.
They may end up being key cogs in New England’s defense by the end of the season.
Losers: Myles Bryant, Joejuan Williams and, maybe, Shaun Wade
Even Jonathan Jones, the team’s starting slot cornerback, might be somewhat concerned about the Patriots’ decision to add a pair of DBs. Marcus Jones, in particular, is suited to steal Jonathan Jones’ job. In all likelihood, the Patriots cornerback group looks like this:
That “????” will be the spot for the remaining cornerbacks to fight over. And the reality is that the Patriots occasionally head into the season with four or five cornerbacks. It’s not guaranteed there will be a sixth spot. With Myles Bryant and Joejuan Williams struggling through 2022, my money is on Wade to win that roster spot — if there is a spot to win.
Winner: Joe Judge/Matt Patricia
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It sounds like both Judge and Patricia will be running the Patriots’ offense, with both assistants drawing up the game plan and one of them calling the plays. Time will tell which one wins out.
In the meantime, Bill Belichick is throwing more talent their way, with receivers and running backs and offensive linemen galore in the draft. New England is clearly interested in supporting their young quarterback — but, more than that, their developing offensive coaching staff. Patricia is a defensive guru and Judge is a special teams standout. So this is new terrain for both of them.