While the scramble for first-year talent is still ongoing, the 2022 NFL Draft itself is officially in the books. A total of 262 players heard their names called, including 10 who joined the New England Patriots between Thursday night and Saturday.
There will be a lot to unpack over the coming days and weeks heading into the more quiet period of the NFL offseason. For now, however, let’s clean out the notebook from what happened over the course of the final four rounds of the draft and early on into the rookie free agency signing period.
Patriots double-dip at multiple spots
Double-dipping was one of the themes for the Patriots in last year’s draft. They picked two players out of Alabama with their first two selections — quarterback Mac Jones and defensive tackle Christian Barmore — and followed it up with back-to-back picks invested in Oklahoma prospects (LB Ronnie Perkins, RB Rhamondre Stevenson).
In a way, the 2022 draft was similar. Instead of targeting players from the same programs, however, the Patriots went after the same position groups (and in one case even last names): they double-dipped at cornerback, running back and along the offensive line.
In the second and third round, they invested two straight picks in cornerbacks when they added Houston’s Marcus Jones and Arizona State’s Jack Jones. They also took running backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. Finally, after adding projected starting guard Cole Strange on Day 1, they followed it up by going O-line again with their final two picks of Day 3: Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber.
In a way, this year’s draft class therefore has some 2020 vibes to it. Back then, the Patriots added two linebackers (Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings) and two tight ends (Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene) on the second day, and three offensive linemen on the third (Michael Onwenu, Justin Herron, Dustin Woodard).
No Day 3 trades for New England again
For the second year in a row, the Patriots entered the final day of the draft with some significant capital in hand. They had five picks in 2021 and seven in 2022. The potential for using some of those selections to maybe make targeted trades up the board seemed apparent, but no moves were made — just like last year.
With the team staying put for all of its Day 3 picks, seven players were added to the roster on Saturday.
N’Keal Harry, Jarrett Stidham do not appear to have much of a trade market
Speaking of trades, there was some buzz surrounding wide receiver N’Keal Harry entering Saturday. The former first-round pick was seen as a realistic candidate to be moved for either another player or some late-round assets. Apparently, however, it appears his trade market was limited to a point where New England did not feel confident pulling the trigger.
At the moment, Harry therefore remains with the Patriots. With fellow X-receiver Tyquan Thornton added in the second round, and with DeVante Parker acquired via trade earlier this offseason, however, his days in New England still seem numbered.
The same is true for third-string quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Once a promising developmental option behind Tom Brady, the former fourth-rounder appears to be on his way out with the selection of Bailey Zappe at No. 137 overall.
Stidham, like Harry, was seen as a trade candidate coming into the offseason. Nothing has materialized just yet, however.
Was Kevin Harris a contingency pick?
The Patriots raised eyebrows quite a few times during the draft, and the selection of South Carolina running back Kevin Harris in the sixth round was one of those moments. The Patriots had already picked a player at the position earlier on Day 3, and in general were quite deep at running back entering the draft to begin with.
Based on his draft status, Harris should not be considered a lock to make the roster, so this pick was more taking a flier on a potential rookie free agency target more than anything else. However, it might also have been a contingency pick based on how the board fell around him.
The Patriots, after all, saw one of their potential draft targets — Cincinnati linebacker Darrian Beavers — come off the board just one pick earlier. Obviously, there is no telling whether they were really after Beavers, but he appeared to be a fit based on play-style, size and positional need.
At the end of the day, however, Harris was the pick.
“hen you have an opportunity to add a really good player to your team, you want to capitalize on that,” Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh said about the selection. “Kevin under Coach Muschamp, under Coach Beamer, has had a great career down there at South Carolina, and really like the way he plays and the things that he was able to do under those two different systems.
“When you see the value in adding a good piece to your team at that position with the way those guys — you know, how physical this game is, you can never have enough good guys to hand the ball off to. This guy is a really strong runner, so we’re happy to add him to the team.”
Patriots show an affinity for the East-West Shrine Bowl
The Patriots’ history with the Senior Bowl is well known, and they ended up picking four more players from the preparatory game in Mobile AL again this year — including first-round pick Cole Strange. New England loves its Senior Bowl guys, that is not a secret.
However, they are also paying close attention to the other big all-star game, the East-West Shrine Bowl. In fact, they picked more Shrine Bowl participants this draft than those coming through the Senior Bowl.
Led by wide receiver Tyquan Thornton in the second round — the first Shrine Bowl player drafted altogether this year — New England added six players through the draft and free agency. Third-round cornerback Jack Jones, fourth-round running back Pierre Strong and sixth-round defensive lineman Sam Roberts both participated, as did rookie free agent additions D’Eriq King and LeBryan Ray.
“Those games are a great opportunity to see some of these smaller-school players go against what might be considered higher level competition,” Matt Groh said about the importance of the college all-star games. “There’s players everywhere, and it’s our job to go find them. Our area scouts and our national scouts and Cam Williams does a great job getting those guys organized. We’ve got to cover every school and be on top of wherever there’s a player.
“We’re going to go find them and we’re going to get to know them, and we’ve got to see how they would fit into our program and then what skills they have. It’s not just the Alabamas and LSUs. We’re happy to have a player from LSU and Arizona State and some of these big-name programs, but it ultimately comes down to the kid and the skill set and how they’re going to fit in, into our culture and into our scheme.”
After a one-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Shrine Bowl returned this year in a new location; Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas hosted the game in early February that featured over 100 draft hopefuls.
One of them was the aforementioned Jack Jones, and the Patriots were all over him during the pre-draft process.
“They have big designs for him to come in and be their nickel, and maybe be their starter right away. They did a lot of homework on Jack,” Shrine Bowl director Eric Galko, who scouted Jones for the game, said on Saturday during an appearance on the Bootleg Football live show.
“I was going to be surprised if he wasn’t a Patriot. There are a couple of team-player fits ... The Patriots, you could tell they got their guys on draft day. They wanted Cole Strange, for better or worse, at 29 overall. They wanted Jack Jones.”
Turns out, the Patriots wanted a lot of Shrine Bowl players this year.
New England misses out on a popular pre-draft pick
Given where their quarterback is coming from, it was no surprise to see the Patriots linked to multiple Alabama wide receivers. Jameson Williams and John Metchie were both drafted out of their range in the first and second rounds, however, leaving only one potential target: Slade Bolden, who was one of Jones’ favorite targets in 2020.
Bolden was projected as a rookie free agent, and he indeed did not hear his name called. The belief was that the Patriots would be all over him once he entered the open market, and they were indeed in touch with him. However, nothing came to be: Bolden signed a contract with the Baltimore Ravens rather than joining Jones in New England.
Jake Bailey gets some competition, just not the one that was expected
While Bailey is one of the NFL’s best punters, his 2022 salary cap hit of $4.1 million was seen as a potential issue for the Patriots. One way to address it would have been selecting one of the top-rated punters in the draft, San Diego State’s Matt Araiza who carries the magnificent nickname “Punt God.”
The “Punt God” did not descent upon New England, however. The third punter to come off the board, Araiza went to Buffalo with the first pick of the sixth round.
The Patriots did not end up picking a player at the position, but they did sign one punter in rookie free agency: Jake Julien out of Eastern Michigan, who averaged 43.4 yards per punt during his five seasons with the Eagles. A right-footed punter, he will be given a chance to compete against New England’s All-Pro this summer.