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NFL Draft results 2022: Picking Cole Strange in the first round again shows how much the Patriots value the Senior Bowl

Related: Why the Patriots drafted Chattanooga OL Cole Strange

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 02 Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots made a shocking selection on the first night of the 2022 NFL Draft, electing to fill their position of biggest need by selecting Cole Strange out of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. The pick was surprising for us but perhaps not for those who closely followed the Patriots on the pre-draft scouting trail.

They were again heavily involved at the Senior Bowl this year, for example. Guess where small-school prospect Cole Strange was one of the standout performers versus top-tier competition?

“He played well against competition at the Senior Bowl,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick about Strange said during his post-draft media conference call on Thursday.

“Whatever opportunities you have to evaluate him, you evaluate him. Senior Bowl was part of it. That was definitely a move up competitively. They played a couple SEC teams and his workout was pretty good, as well. He’s a pretty athletic guy with good size, smart. He does a lot of things, has a lot of good tools to work with.”

What makes the Senior Bowl an effective evaluation tool in the pre-draft process is that it is the closest simulation of the NFL grind. Players spend a week down in Mobile, AL, and work with NFL coaches on technique and drills against other draft hopefuls. The coaches get an in-person evaluation and a better feel for a player’s strengths and weaknesses than the dog-and-pony show known as the NFL Scouting Combine.

The man in question said so himself on Thursday night.

“I think the Senior Bowl helped me quite a bit,” Strange said shortly after getting drafted.

“The week of exposure playing against guys who are from FBS schools, SEC schools, Big-Ten schools, I think that showed to a lot of coaches and scouts that I was competitive enough to where it wasn’t like, ‘Here is a guy that’s been in the FCS and he’s doing it while the competition isn’t very good.’ I think it was a really big week for me.”

It comes as no surprise that the Patriots put a lot of stock in this single week, as evidenced by their recent draft selections. In four of their previous five drafts, they have selected a Senior Bowl participant with their top selection of the draft.

  • 2022: IOL Cole Strange (29th overall)
  • 2021: QB Mac Jones (15th overall)
  • 2020: DB Kyle Dugger (37th overall)
  • 2018: OT Isaiah Wynn (23rd overall)

That list includes three first-rounders as well as Kyle Dugger, who was the fifth player selected in the second round of his respective draft. Those four players aren’t the only ones who the Patriots took a chance on after a good Senior Bowl week.

Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Trey Flowers are also among those participating in the event in their respective draft years before becoming contributors on some of the recent Patriots Super Bowl-winning teams. This all shows a clear pattern: the Patriots highly value the evaluations they get from the Senior Bowl when setting up their draft board and making their selections in the draft.