Understanding the Patriots’ 2022 Draft Class

Look at him.

I didn’t really want to do this, but the pessimism was a bit much. So here we are.

You may not be happy with the New England Patriots’ draft class from this weekend. I’m not thrilled either! But I’ve seen a handful of major media members and other people that I generally consider to be good at their job give some tough grades to the team. Here, based on a consensus from 18 media members across various outlets, the Patriots had the worst draft with an overall GPA of 1.61 (equivalent to a D+/C-), with the second worst at 2.16 (C/C+).

The 2022 NFL Draft Media Grading Sheet, from René Bugner (@RNBWCV on twitter)

In this chart, the Patriots received 4 D+’s, 2 D’s, 2 D-’s, and an F. Half of all grades assigned to the team! I do think the two B-’s given out are likely a bit rich. There’s also merit to the conversation surrounding grading teams’ draft classes the day after the draft, where there’s no clear understanding of how any of these players will fare as pros. We sit around watching our favorite pumpkin pie-eating unvaccinated draft analyst yell at his coworkers about how stupid some team is to make a 20 year-old’s dream come true of playing a sport professionally, without any idea of how the team will look to play him on the field, how he might have proved himself in team meetings, and who they are as people. It’s a painful process (that has become incredibly overproduced and annoying to watch), but it’s also a fun time to instill hope in fans of perennially losing teams and see some fun moments for everyone. Anyway, I figured I’d think through what I assume the Patriots’ process and plans will be for these players. I’m probably wrong, but it’s fun! We’re almost always all wrong. So have fun.

Some Thoughts on the Picks

I will preface this entire process up front with this: I definitely have no strong feelings on Day 3 draft picks, especially in the 6th and 7th rounds. That’s not to say these players won’t be good pros or anything, but they face significant competition from those ahead of them. If it works out, it works out. We need to lower our expectations.

UT-Chattanooga OL Cole Strange, 1–29: This has been quite the hot topic over the past five days. Obviously we all saw “the video,” and heard the apology/explanation that came after it. But after watching how Day 2 of the draft unfolded, I understood the selection of Strange much more. The offensive linemen that were selected in the second round: Cam Jurgens (strictly a center), Luke Goedeke (Central Michigan player who went from tight end to tackle and may land at guard, and didn’t work out during the draft process), and Ed Ingram (who has some pretty sickening accusations levied against him that led to teams taking them off their draft boards). The other Day 2 linemen were mostly players who were either expected to play tackle in the pros or who ranked lower than Strange on Arif Hasan’s Consensus Big Board, which aggregated big boards from 82 different draft analysts this season. The only guard drafted after Strange that was ranked higher than him was Memphis OL Dylan Parham, selected by Las Vegas 90th overall. Parham and strange are relatively similar in size, but Strange tested significantly better in drills like the 3-cone (89th percentile), 20 yard shuttle (90th percentile), and broad jump (99th percentile!). He has some interesting athletic traits that show on tape, and it wouldn’t surprise me if those watching his film in Foxborough were having visions of Joe Thuney while watching the Chattanooga Moc (based on his athletic testing, he compared similarly to Thuney, Ali Marpet, and J.C. Tretter, to name a few). It’s fair to expect him to be a day 1 starter at left guard.

Cole Strange also gets bonus points for his future jersey. 69. haha

Baylor WR Tyquan Thornton, 2–50: Thornton was the 10th receiver taken in the draft at pick 50. From 2017–2021, WR10 was drafted in the top 50 just one other time (2019, where 11 receivers were taken in the top 50). The selection of Thornton appeared to start a mini-run on receiver, with three being taken in the next four picks. While the Patriots may have been interested in Wan’Dale Robinson and John Metchie, both of them went 7 and 6 picks earlier, respectively. The Patriots traded from 54 to 50 to secure Thornton, with receivers George Pickens, Alec Pierce, and Skyy Moore being selected from 52–54. This likely means that out of this small group of receivers, if the team was interested in any of them, they were most interested in Thornton, and wanted to make sure they got “their guy.” Matt Groh has consistently mentioned a key goal of the 2022 offseason was to get faster, and of the receivers in this mini-run, Thornton ran the 40-yard dash 0.13 seconds faster than any of the other three (Moore and Pierce ran 4.41, and Pickens ran 4.47). Thornton’s 4.28 run was tops among the 2022 receiver class, and in the 98th percentile of all receivers from 1999 to present. There are obviously questions about Thornton’s size (9th percentile weight at 6' 2 3/8" and 181 pounds) and offensive fit (Baylor is notorious for not asking much of their receivers), based on how this stretch of picks went down they must have been satisfied with their choice.

Houston DB Marcus Jones, 3–85: This pick seemed to be the most well-regarded of all the Patriots’ picks this weekend. Jones is likely to get on the field defending in the slot or in player-specific matchups in 2022, and if Jonathan Jones needs extra time or isn’t on the roster going forward, Marcus could potentially be ready day 1. He can also provide significant value as a returner (4 return touchdowns in 2021) and even played receiver in his final year (10 catches, 109 yards, 1 TD). As a bonus, I wanted to show Jones’ measurement numbers and the percentiles vs. all cornerbacks, provided by MockDraftable. Thought it was… interesting.

via MockDraftable

Arizona State DB Jack Jones, 4–121: This was probably the pick I was least sure about. Many people may hold what happened with Jack Jones after he was dismissed from USC against him, but he and his agent have made it clear he intends to keep what happened in the past. I’m more surprised that the Patriots chose to select Jack this early. He’s a bit thin (5' 10 3/4", 171 pounds) but he’s a “got that dawg in him” type of player. You watch him play and he’s just an asshole on the field. When he’s not playing far off his man, he’s willing to get hands on, and he showed some tenacity in playing the run (while at times being a little cautious, searching for angles). While he is a bit on the small side, he seems to fit the mold of a Patriots corner with the way he plays. In a best case scenario, he likely supplants Joejuan Williams as the 4th or 5th corner on the roster in 2022 and solidifies himself as a top 4 outside corner in the following year.

South Dakota State RB Pierre Strong, 4–127: This is where it became clear the Patriots were planning for the future, and this trend seemed to continue through the rest of the class. Strong would be hard pressed to find time in the backfield this year, with Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White (who has not yet been cleared for football activities), and presumably JJ Taylor ahead of him, but he could carve out a role for himself if White were unable to play this year, and if Taylor hasn’t made the leap the staff expects him to. As a Jackrabbit, Strong racked up 33 rushing touchdowns, 15 of which came in his senior year. He also showed some skill as a receiver, with 50 catches over four years. Strong seems to have a somewhat similar skillset to Stevenson, though Rhamondre has shown some otherworldly contact balance and rushing ability. Strong clocked a 4.37 40 yard dash at the combine, tied for first, and tested relatively well (84th percentile broad jump, 91st percentile 10 yard split). A lot of his role could hinge on the contract status of Damien Harris past 2022, but at worst he should be a contributor to the RB committee by 2023.

Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe, 4–137: This pick surely infuriated some people. I’ll keep it very short here: he’s a perfect backup quarterback. He’s Mac Jones Lite. Jarrett Stidham’s contract rolls at the end of this season, so at some point in the next 12 months this Mac lookalike will be #2 on the depth chart.

South Carolina RB Kevin Harris, 6–183: This was another interesting pick. It was a bit of a surprise for the team to take two running backs, but this could speak to the coaching staff’s feelings on Taylor, White, or other backs on the roster. Harris put up a great 2020 season (185–1138–15, also recording 21 catches), but somewhat underwhelmed in 2021 (152–660–4). We learned that this was related to some back problems he had throughout the season, which he was able to have fixed in the offseason. He admitted himself that he never felt right in the 2021 season, but felt better in the past few months. At the combine, he showed off some good explosiveness, posting the third-best broad jump (10' 6", 91st percentile) at 5' 10" and 221 pounds. If he can be the player he was in 2020, this will be a great pick for the Patriots. Like Strong, his situation is largely dependent on the health and contracts of the players ahead of him on the depth chart.

NW Missouri State DL Sam Roberts, 6–200: Roberts was obviously a surprise pick, being drafted out of D2 NW Missouri State. But maybe he shouldn’t have been. He was the 2021 Cliff Harris Award recipient, given to the best small college defensive player of the year. The last award winner? Kyle Dugger. Roberts recorded 18 TFLs and 6.5 sacks in 13 games during his senior year, while serving as a captain and also contributing on special teams (including both sides of the field goal unit). Roberts will likely be competing with guys like Bill Murray, Byron Cowart, and others of their ilk to earn a spot on the bottom of the roster. His special teams experience, which he seemingly had a knack for in college (Roberts blocked five kicks in his college career) should help give him a greater chance to earn a roster spot.

LSU OL Chasen Hines, 6–210: Hines was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, and was able to play at least 8 games in each of his four college seasons. He earned one start as a freshman, then backed up former LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry (a 3rd round draft pick in 2020 now with the Denver Broncos) in his second season, finally settling in at the right guard spot with 16 starts over his last two years. Hines dealt with injuries throughout his final year, but was able to participate in the combine and LSU pro day during the spring. His athletic profile is at the least intriguing, with an 83rd percentile 10 yard split and 79th percentile broad jump (both reasonable measures of athleticism for offensive linemen), and it shows up on the field. He moves pretty well, and looked comfortable while pass blocking and run blocking. The Patriots seemingly have some magical ability to find Day 3 and UDFA offensive linemen, and there’s no reason to question the selection of a player who played in the SEC for four years. Hines could be a solid depth piece or practice squad player who receives elevations as soon as his rookie year. At the least, he should be a respectable camp body. (The Patriots also signed LSU center Liam Shanahan as an undrafted free agent, so at least they’ll be able to play together a bit longer).

Michigan OL Andrew Steuber, 7–245: In the same vein, Steuber was a four-star recruit coming from Connecticut who made starts in three of his four playing years (redshirting his freshman season and tearing his ACL in 2019). He was part of the 2021 Joe Moore Award-winning Michigan offensive line, and he started all 14 games at right tackle for the team. I would imagine in a best case scenario, Steuber makes the practice squad in 2022, as the team likely needs to figure out where he best fits and refine his skillset (there was a lot of talk about Michigan running the ball and beating Georgia with physicality in the College Football Playoff, and they were sorely mistaken).

Wrapping Up

Some things I mentioned in March for potential plans were a youth movement on defense (including moving away from guys like Dont’a Hightower, Jonathan Jones, and Devin McCourty in the near future), as well as the idea of cornerback, offensive line, and linebacker being clear draft targets. I will accept I was very wrong on the linebacker front, and it should be fun to watch guys like Cameron McGrone, Ronnie Perkins, and Raekwon McMillan earn spots on the roster. The team triple dipped at offensive line and double dipped at cornerback, hopefully proving me right in some way. I love being right. Very fun stuff.

In my opinion, I think giving the draft a grade around C+ makes the most sense. At face value it’s fair to question what sort of value they were getting, especially in terms of passing up other players. But if the team secured “their guys” on Days 1 and 2, and found potential pieces and good developmental guys in the last four rounds, then it doesn’t really matter. This team was always going to be hard-pressed to be truly competitive in the AFC in 2022 after watching teams make a slew of major acquisitions, but the Patriots appear set for a strong 2023 if we can make it there, and should at least be a pesky competitor this fall.

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