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Time to meet the newest New England Patriots

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The NFL Draft has come to its conclusion and the New England Patriots have added some new names to their ranks.

The draft – which took place in Las Vegas – gave all 32 NFL teams a chance to replenish their ranks through seven rounds of picks from the collegiate ranks. This year proved to be an interesting one for a couple of reasons.

First, this is the first draft that takes into account the extra year of eligibility granted players due to COVID. In essence, it means that not only are there more players available than usual, but that many of these players are a bit older than the standard. This adds even more variability to an already fungible process.

Next, this draft didn’t feature any consensus elite quarterback prospects, meaning that teams were left to either reach for a QB or address other needs. The result is an order that we don’t often see; for the first time in decades, the first five selections were defensive players. It just means that we’re unlikely to see the same kind of paradigm shift that comes with a new stud QB.

Regardless, we’re here to talk about the Patriots, who had a … let’s call it unexpected draft. From a first-round reach to some late-round steals, New England continued its tradition of picking who they want to pick and consensus rankings be damned.

And that’s the thing. Just about every pundit out there is viewing this as a disappointing draft for Bill Belichick and company – and please include me among them – but in the end, what do the pundits know? Belichick wants what he wants and drafts accordingly, just like he’s done for the last two decades. Maybe we should see how this plays out.

And now, your new New England Patriots.

(Obligatory annual caveat: This is not an effort to grade the Patriots draft class. Literally nothing has changed about any of these players except that they have been given an opportunity to potentially make an NFL roster. As to whether any or all of them cash in on that opportunity, well … I can’t say. And neither can anyone else, no matter how authoritative they sound on TV or on the internet. Grading a draft that just happened is nonsense; a worthless exercise. This is just an introduction.)


Round 1 (29) – Cole Strange, OL, Chattanooga

And here we have that probably-a-reach first-round selection. There was palpable shock when the Pats selected Strange here; the general consensus was that he’d have lasted another round or two at least. But New England liked what they saw, a big (6-foot-5, 307), hard-working and smart interior lineman with a shot to contend for a starting job in Year One. We’ve also heard that they’re comparing Strange to Logan Mankins, another lineman considered a reach who became a major piece of some title teams. While it definitely feels like they could have landed Strange later and added more value with this pick, the attitude probably shifts if he winds up the starter at left guard.

Round 2 (50) – Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor

As someone who always wants the Patriots to draft speed, I’m happy to see that they took a big swing here with Thornton. His numbers at Baylor weren’t eye-popping, but some of the ones he put up at the combine sure were. This is a dude who ran a 4.28 40 and was a top-10 guy in both vertical and broad jumps. He’s the kind of explosive athlete whose name we don’t often hear called by the Pats. He’s a little lighter than you might like, and his agility numbers aren’t elite, but this is a high-upside pick. New England needs a real vertical threat to open things up for QB Mac Jones – maybe Thornton can be that guy.

Round 3 (85) Marcus Jones, CB, Houston

Even those who were the most down on New England’s draft tended to applaud this pick. Jones might not be the biggest corner – he’s 5-foot-8, 174 – but he’s proven exceptional in both pass coverage and the return game. That versatility – in 2021 alone, Jones picked off five passes (one pick-six) and returned four kicks (two kickoffs, two punts) for scores, among other impressive feats – earned him the Paul Hornung Award … and a selection by the Patriots in Round 3. He probably won’t start on defense right away – though he’ll see the field in some packages – but he’ll likely get a chance to contribute to the return game immediately.

Round 4 (121) Jack Jones, CB, Arizona State

Another cornerback named Jones! Let the hijinks ensue! Jones has some of the same size-related issues as the previous Jones, though he lacks his predecessor’s productivity. Jones has also dealt with numerous off-the-field issues over the course of his collegiate career – so many that this pick is again considered a bit of a reach on the part of the Patriots. However, while Jones has mid-level speed, he has shown out with some excellent scores in agility drills, meaning that he might be able to assume a depth role in New England’s busier coverage packages.

Round 4 (127) Pierre Strong, RB, South Dakota State

I’ll admit to having a certain degree of bias toward FCS players, but it’s tough to argue with a guy like Pierre Strong in terms of pure productivity. This dude played nearly 50 college football games, running up over 5,100 total yards and 43 scores. He’s a power runner with decent hands in the receiving game – a must in today’s NFL – and could have a shot at winning the early-down role in the New England running game. He had good combine numbers, including the fastest RB time of the bunch (4.37), but it remains to be seen if he can play up to the enhanced competition.

Round 4 (137) Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky

Another one that feels a bit head-scratchy, though not for the same reasons. Late fourth seems about right for Zappe, who set all kinds of FBS passing records for the Hilltoppers in 2021, but doesn’t have the sorts of elite physical traits usually needed to make the leap to the NFL. That said, the Pats already have a young QB ensconced as the starter. Still, the dude threw 62 TDs and put up 5,987 yards – that’s a lot. One imagines that Zappe is viewed as a developmental backup, but one can’t help but wonder if other needs could have been met here.

Round 6 (183) – Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina

Harris is coming off a couple of solid seasons at South Carolina. He’s got the build to be a between-the-tackles back – he’s north of 220 pounds – and has demonstrated durability during his collegiate career. Still, his college resume isn’t going to keep him on the field; it’ll be interesting to see if he can do enough to stick on the roster.

Round 6 (200) – Sam Roberts, DT, Northwest Missouri State

Say what you will, but Roberts has played a LOT of football, one of the rare players to hit the 50-game mark on the college field. Now, his 18.5 sacks in that period might not seem that impressive, but bear in mind, he’s an interior lineman. Also, he’s got five blocked kicks in his career – that’s the sort of defensive energy that Bill Belichick loves to see.

Round 6 (210) – Chasen Hines, OL, LSU

Another interior lineman, though this one likely won’t have as clear a path as first-rounder Strange. Hines has played both right and left guard and center, so he’s versatile. Still, going off the board this late means that he’ll have to fight to even make the 53-man as a rotation piece.

Round 7 (245) – Andrew Steuber, OL, Michigan

Last but not least, Steuber is a bit of an O-line lottery ticket. He has great physical traits – 6-foot-6, 325 – and the ability to play tackle or guard. While he’s far from guaranteed a spot, his inside/outside track record means that he’ll be in the mix to become a backup on the O-line.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 May 2022 07:17


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