By Nick Adamopoulos –
The 2022 NFL draft came to end Saturday evening. The annual three-day event showcases the next wave of NFL talent and provides fans hope that their respective team will improve towards a Super Bowl victory. The Patriots went into the draft with glaring needs at corner back, offensive line, linebacker, and edge rusher. Fans of the Patriots woke up Sunday simply asking “What is Belichick doing now?” Draft analysis both professional and amateur all agreed that the Patriots reached on several of their draft picks, failed to make a splash selection, and on paper may have had one of the worst drafts under Belichick. Who did the Patriots take in the draft, and what are these prospects bringing to a rebuilding team with a fan base that wants to win now:
Cole Strange-Offensive Guard-Chattanooga: Pick 29
Analysis, scouts, and Super Bowl winning coach Sean McVay all agree that the Patriots reached to draft the Chattanooga offensive guard at the tail end of round 1. Many believed that Strange was a day two draft pick who would end up at the end of round 2 or early round 3. Scouts find Strange to be a tough and aggressive talent who will compete for the starting left guard spot. Fans must hope that Strange turns into the next Joe Thuney or Logan Mankins and becomes a pro bowl caliber talent while protecting second year quarterback Mac Jones. While the Strange pick did address a position of need for the Patriots, the team passed on several highly rated defensive players who were still available at the time Strange was chosen. Time will only tell if Belichick made the right choice here, but from a pure talent standpoint, the Patriots had better options available.
Tyquan Thornton-Wide Receiver-Baylor: Pick 59
The Patriots got one of the fastest players in this year’s draft with the selection of Thornton in round 2. The Baylor standout stands 6 foot 2 inches and weights 181 pounds. Thornton also projects to compete as the lead kick and punt returner next season. Thornton has the size and speed to be a true stretch receiver for the Patriots along with the newly acquired Parker from the Dolphins. Thornton was another reach for Belichick, as many had several other wide receivers ranked ahead of Thornton on their respective draft boards. It is clear, the Patriots are hoping that Parker and Thornton not only bring a new vertical aspect to the team’s passing game, but that the two speedsters can help open up the middle of the field for the likes of Myers, Bourne, Henry, and Smith; while also lessening the amount of bodies in the box for the Patriots power run game.
Marcus Jones-Corner Back-Houston: Pick 85
Jack Jones-Corner Back-Arizona State University-Pick 121
With the loss of JC Jackson, the Patriots have a glaring hole at cornerback. While the team brought back Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, the team still is lacking talent at one of the most important defensive positions in the league. Marcus Jones stands at only 5 foot 8 inches and weighs 174 pounds. Marcus has been scouted to be a “sticky” defender who has the talent and speed to mirror both outside and slot receivers. Marcus should also compete for punt return duties while competing with Jonathan Jones for slot corner playing minutes. This selection might also mean that Jonathan Jones will find himself spending more time as a hybrid corner/safety similar to McCourty.
Jack Jones is a 5 foot 10 inch corner weighting in at 171 pounds. Coming out of high school, Jack found himself as a 5 star recruit who committed to USC. However, academic eligibility issues along with a charge of breaking into a business led to Jack finding himself in junior college prior to landing at ASU. Jack has tremendous athletic ability, but questions concerning his maturity and dedication will need to be addressed.
Pierre Strong Jr.-Running Back-South Dakota State: Pick 127
Nobody expected the Patriots to need more bodies in their running back room, but the team left the draft with two new rookie running backs. Strong is a versatile and fast back who ran a 4.37 second 40-yard dash. Strong will compete with James White and JJ Taylor as that change of pace back behind the Patriots true power runners.
Bailey Zappe-Quarterback-Western Kentucky: Pick 137
The Stidham era for the Patriots never started and is clearly now over. Zappe is a 6 foot 225 pound gun slinger. While Zappe may not have played against the top defensive talent in college football, he still was able to throw for 62 touchdowns last season. Mac Jones is clearly QB1 for the team, and it is likely that Brian Hoyer will get one more year as the elder statesman in the QB room, but Zappe gives the Patriots another young Quarterback to mold. Zappe was an intriguing pick, but there were better talents at more pressing positions of need available. [Editor’s note: if the Patriots sign Trey Flowers this week, then a lot of the criticism of Belichick on failing to address the team’s pass rush struggles becomes mute]
Kevin Harris-Running Back-South Carolina: Pick 183
Harris is a more conventional power back when compared to fellow draft pick Strong Jr. Harris is unlikely to supplant Harris or Stenson and will find himself well behind White for a position on the active roster. This feels like a pick the Patriots are hoping they can stash on their practice squad and can utilize in the event of an injury to one of their top three runners.
Sam Roberts-Defensive Tackle-Northwest Missouri State: Pick 200
Chasen Hines-Offensive Guard-LSU: Pick 210
Andrew Stueber-Offensive Tackle-Michigan: Pick 245
The final three selections of the Patriots are all raw talents who the Patriots are hoping to surprise them over the spring and summer as an active roster talent or a selection that shows enough potential to stash on the practice squad.
Roberts played at Northwest Missouri State and is a large individual at 6 foot 4 inches and 293 points. Roberts demonstrated a strong pass rushing ability during college, but obviously lined up against lesser talent than a player coming from a power five conference.
Hines is a 6 foot 2, 327-pound guard. Hines projects as a camp body who might show enough to be considered for a practice squad position.
Stueber was the Patriots’ last selection. The former Wolverine is 6 foot 6 and 325 pounds. Stueber projects as a potential right guard or right tackle. While there is not one true characteristic of Stueber that analysts found to be exceptional, Stueber is a well-rounded offensive lineman who was reliable on a strong Michigan offensive line. Stueber has a chance to stick around on the active roster and should be able to show enough as a raw talent whom the Patriots can work with to become a backup lineman.
Fans have made it clear that they are unhappy with how the draft went for their New England Patriots. Radio hosts will have their say this week to the detriment of Belichick. The Patriots picked the players that they expect will bring a new emphasis of athleticism and speed to a team lacking those characteristics. While the team certainly did become more athletic, it may not have become better. When compared to the strong drafts of the Jets and Bills and the offseason improvements of the Dolphins, it is fair to wonder how likely the Patriots are to compete in not only the AFC but in the AFC East.