The New England Patriots have undergone a large transformation on their offensive line since the opening of free agency. Both starting guards from their 2021 team have departed since the opening of free agency, with Ted Karras signing a 3-year, $18 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals and Shaq Mason being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fifth round pick and added cap space.
David Andrews, Isaiah Wynn, and Trent Brown will all return from the 2021 starting group, while Michael Onwenu is expected to slot in to one of the vacant guard spots left behind by Karras and Mason. If you’re doing the math at home, that still leaves one starting spot up for grabs.
There are in house options to fill the void. James Ferentz was re-signed this offseason to continue his role as the ultimate reserve interior offensive lineman. Arlington Hambright and Drew Desjarlais were signed to reserve/future contracts and are expected to compete for reserve roles, and William Sherman returns for Year 2 after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2021 draft. While all of those players will be given a chance to earn a starting role, it’s likely that the Patriots are still in the market for a long term starter.
The best way to add one of those players? The draft.
Name: Cole Strange
Position: Offensive line
School: Chattanooga (RS-Senior)
Opening day age: 24
2021 season: 11 games, First-Team All-American
Size: 6’5”, 307lbs
Expected round: 2nd-3rd
2022 #Patriots Draft Target Thread— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 27, 2022
IOL Cole Strange#Chattanooga
(6’5” - 307lbs)
From everything that I’ve heard and read, NFL guys LOVE Cole Strange. Lets find out why, and how he could fit with the #Patriots. pic.twitter.com/Cs0PsP55Vq
Strengths: Above all else, Cole Strange brings experience and versatility to the table. He played in 49 games across five seasons for the Mocs, starting in 42 of those games across three different positions. Primarily playing left guard at Chattanooga, Strange was used as an emergency center option in the back half of 2019 and even got a few starts at left tackle in 2021 as the team’s best overall lineman.
Strange is another guy that teams may want to try at center but can fit at either guard spot. He stood out at the Senior Bowl and has steadily risen throughout the draft process. Reminds me of a less gimmicky Quinn Meinerz. pic.twitter.com/boPom8ncC6— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 27, 2022
On field Strange is at his best when he’s allowed to play with some space. That’s why he was so special at guard in college, Chattanooga could have him pull to either side and essentially use him as a lead blocker. He’s also really good at climbing to the second level, despite being a tad top-heavy he’s a balance blocker. Every positive thing about him as an on-field talent relates back to his balance and ability to create leverage.
I like Strange at guard because it will allow him to use his feet a little bit more. Getting him out in space and letting him work is how you’re going to magnify his strengths and his his weaknesses. pic.twitter.com/aRXAZxxAOQ— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 27, 2022
Weaknesses: Strange’s lower half looks like it belongs to a tight end. If he’s going to excel on the interior, he will need to add significant size. Why? He lacks strength.
NFL guards need to be strong and powerful, I wouldn’t consider Strange to be either right now. Not only are players like Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason powerful off of the line, but they have the strength to create leverage inside their opponents body. Strange wins by using angles and bend in his lower half. There’s a serious question as to whether or not Strange could keep his flexibility down low while looking to add weight, but if he doesn’t add that power it’s a wonder if his style will be sustainable at the next level.
What would be his role? While many NFL’s teams are expected to project Strange as a center, I remain steadfast in my belief that he’s best served to play guard. Everything that makes him special as a player relates to movement, and he can do that most at guard. It just so happens to help that a guard is what the Patriots need.
Does he have positional versatility? We touched on Strange’s versatility as one of his biggest strengths so the short answer to this question is yes. He made starts at center, guard, and tackle in college. Like all players you’ll want him to excel in one specific spot but it’s nice to know he can fill in at any spot in a pinch.
Who’s his competition? Right now, any interior offensive lineman drafted by the Patriots within the first three rounds will enter training camp as a starter. They simply do not have the talent at the position as of right now. Drew Desjarlais and Arlington Hambright are options to compete, but a guy drafted within the first two days will have an upper hand.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots guard group is currently full of castoffs. Michael Onwenu was relegated to blocking tight end duties last year. William Sherman couldn’t get on the field as a rookie. Arlington Hambright is a career practice squad/reserve player, and Drew Desjarlais is looking to make the jump from the CFL.
We all know what Onwenu can do, and Desjarlais will be given every opportunity to prove he’s capable of making that jump. There just isn’t much of a chance that they don’t add another guard to that group.
Why not the Patriots? I believe there’s a chance that New England really likes Drew Desjarlais. Do they like him enough to let him start right away? Who knows, but if they do that means there’s a chance they focus their draft efforts somewhere else.
Verdict: I think the Patriots have their eye on someone specific in this draft. Everything I’ve heard and read from people in the know leads me to believe it’s Strange. Yes.