Count Rusty Wright among those not shocked that the New England Patriots selected Cole Strange in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Strange’s head coach at UT Chattanooga, he was able to get an up-close look at the offensive linemen for the last three years.
What he saw convinced him that the young man was indeed worthy of a first-round draft pick. He was therefore not surprised when the Patriots brought Strange aboard with pick No. 29 on Thursday night.
“Hell no,” Wright said during an appearance on WEEI’s Gresh & Keefe show on Friday morning. “Guy can play. Guy can play. He can play football.”
Under Wright’s tutelage, Strange started 27 of a possible 28 games. Playing primarily at left guard but also starting one game each at center and left tackle, he established himself as one of the best linemen to enter this year’s draft.
A powerful run blocker and stout pass protector — giving up just 11 combined hurries and one sack in the last three years — Strange was the Mocs’ best player between 2019 and 2021. His performances caught the eye of several NFL teams, and the Patriots in particular. After trading down in the first round of the draft, they picked him up.
According to Wright, however, Strange’s draft position would not have mattered.
“It wouldn’t have mattered where they drafted him, he would have played,” the veteran coach said. “I’m not going to second-guess Bill Belichick for nothing; he has more Super Bowl rings than I’ll ever think about getting. So, he knows what he’s doing. Those guys know what they’re doing.
“A guy like Cole, he has great value because he can play so many spots in a league where you have limited numbers. That’s just going to add more value as he gets older in that league.”
Strange is expected to take over the Patriots’ vacant left guard position upon his arrival, but there has been talk about him possibly succeeding center David Andrews further down the line. Time will tell, but New England invested in a lot of flexibility when drafting the 23-year-old in the first round — despite the pick itself being a polarizing one.