Now that most of us can go back to the movies again like the Before Times, after the last few movies I’ve seen, there’s really 3 ways you can leave a movie theater once the credits roll. One, obviously, is the “oh my god, that was awesome”. Then there are the real clunkers, the ones where if you even make it through the whole movie, you’re leaving and telling all your friends “look, no matter how good the trailer is, this is 120 minutes of your life you’ll NEVER get back”.
Then there’s the third kind; the kind where you leave the theater and instead of knowing exactly where you’re at on it the minute the action is over, you keep thinking to yourself
“....the f--k did I just watch?”
(This was me after watching Licorice Pizza, and also why I write about football here, and not about movies at MoviesPulpit.com)
Anyway, that kind of reaction seems to be where most of us are at after seeing New England’s 2022 draft class in its entirety. Areas of the team that were screaming for upgrades and depth were inarguably addressed, it’s just that the way that the team did it was oftentimes head-scratching and occasionally maddening. And of course, there’s always the what-could’ve-been feeling of watching Bill Belichick & Co send another draft card in while Your Guys are still on the board. Happens every year. Sometimes your guys are A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel, sometimes they’re Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell. So it goes.
So, for our final round of draft grade roundups, we’re going to start it off a little differently. We’ll still run down how all the national draftniks and local beat guys and girls graded the New England Patriots, but I wanted to start it off with our own Pat Lane’s assessment, since the Patriot Nation Podcast gang has been all gas, no brakes on the draft since the Patriots’ inglorious exit from the 2021 playoffs. Let’s start there.
Pats Pulpit - Pat Lane
The Patriots were a little all over the map this weekend. They obviously put a priority on speed and athleticism, as they got the most athletic interior lineman, a speedster at cornerback, and the fastest wide receiver and running back at the Scouting Combine. They also reached for a lot of their picks, however, and leave the draft with a whole lot of question marks.
When you disagree so much with the consensus everything seems possible. You could have another Jordan Richards situation on your hands, or you could look like a genius (like the Patriots did with Devin McCourty and Logan Mankins, for example).
Ultimately, it comes down to trusting in Bill Belichick and his scouting staff. They had a great draft last year, and if a few of these guys can come in and contribute this year as well, the team is going to continue to trend in the right direction. For my initial grade, however, there are just too many questionable picks and reaches, which makes the final score a bit lower than the potential the draft class has.
(Read Pat’s complete breakdown of every pick and trade here)
Now, on to the national media, whose reactions can best be summarized as a collective “....ok then?”
View From the National Media
NFL.com - Chad Reuter
Analysis: Predictably, New England traded down in the first round to gain picks; Strange is a solid player who will play for a decade but was not expected to be selected in the top 50, much less the first round. Thornton’s speed was coveted, but trading a pick to get him in the top 50 was surprising, as well. I predicted New England would select Marcus Jones, a diminutive but competitive slot corner and returner, in the third round.
Jack Jones is another small but feisty corner who could beat out veterans who underperformed last year. Zappe’s a director from the pocket with nice anticipation and a bit more zip in his arm than given credit for. Roberts was one of my favorite defensive line sleeper picks as he creates consistent pressure up front. The athletic Hines and sturdy Stueber could be good finds late in the draft like current starter Mike Onwenu was two years ago.
ESPN - Mike Reiss
Mike didn’t give an overall grade to the ‘22 class, but you can read his breakdown of every pick here.
Pro Football Focus
Day 1: Cole Strange is the biggest reach of Round 1, as the Chattanooga Moc was 86th on PFF’s big board. His anchor and footwork are suspect, making it highly unlikely he slots in as a major contributor early on. On a positive note, Strange is a versatile and elite athlete who excels in space. The 6-foot-5, 307-pounder ranked above the 89th percentile at the position historically at the combine in the 40-yard dash (5.03 second), broad jump (120-inches), three-cone drill (7.44 seconds) and pro agility (4.5 seconds). Before blowing up the event in Indianapolis, Strange impressed many across the league by spending almost all of the Senior Bowl at center despite not playing a single down at the position for Chattanooga.
Day 2: After the Saints reached for their pick at 49th overall, the Patriots topped them by taking Tyquan Thornton — the 192nd ranked player on the PFF big board. Everyone knows that he brings deep speed to the table after clocking a 4.28-second 40-yard at the NFL scouting combine. While those wheels are a huge plus, his play strength at the next level is cause for concern. Thornton isn’t much of an after-the-catch threat, as evidenced by averaging 3.9 yards after the catch and breaking just 11 tackles on 143 career receptions.
Marcus Jones has extremely concerning size at 5-foot-8, 177-pounds, and that pushed him down this far in the draft, but at No. 85 overall for New England, Jones provides immense value. He is a fluid athlete who is, at a minimum, going to be a quality return specialist, as he was the highest-graded kick returner in the country last season. He’s not going to be playing outside corner as he has for Houston the last three years, but he can contribute in the slot due to his physical mindset and quickness, and maybe even play snaps on offense.
Day 3: It’s interesting that Bailey Zappe comes off the board here before Sam Howell, but it’s still good value for a quarterback who put up gaudy numbers last season at Western Kentucky. Zappe projects as an ideal backup for Mac Jones in New England after earning a 95.8 PFF grade in 2021.
USA Today - Touchdown Wire
Bill Belichick certainly zigs when the rest of the league zags, and that is reflected in the decisions the New England Patriots made at the start of the draft. After trading down from 21 overall with the Kansas City Chiefs — a move many anticipated given the Patriots’ recent history of draft-day trades — the Patriots added interior offensive lineman Cole Strange from Chattanooga. Strange generated a lot of buzz during the pre-draft process and is a great athlete at the position, but the pick was still a bit earlier than most expected. Then the organization addressed a need at wide receiver in the middle of the second round, adding the speedy Tyquan Thornton from Baylor. Thornton posted the fastest 40-yard dash at the Combine among receivers, and gives the Patriots a vertical presence in the passing game. Still, that pick will be compared to the likes of Alec Pierce, George Pickens and Skyy Moore, some well-rounded receivers who came off the board in the following group of picks.
Marcus Jones was built in a lab to play cornerback for Belichick, and his ability to play inside and outside is a plus. He is also undersized, which might see him used primarily in the slot at the next level. He was also one of the most productive kick returners in all of college football the past few seasons, and Belichick loves special teams value.
They began Day Three with adding another undersized cornerback, Jack Jones from Arizona State. Jones has fantastic change-of-direction skills as well as the ability to explode into passing lanes when playing off coverage. Then they brought in Pierre Strong Jr., a shifty running back from South Dakota State. When they drafted quarterback Bailey Zappe, it might have raised more eyebrows, but his accuracy and pocket management fit their quarterback profile.
Perhaps the underlying theme of this draft from New England? Speed. For years Patriots fans have been clamoring for more athleticism. With this class, they got faster.
Pro Football Network
The Patriots will do things their own way. That’s always been the case, and few drafts have emphasized that more than this one. Cole Strange, Tyquan Thornton, and Marcus Jones were all sizable reaches relative to their expected landing spots. But all three have the upside to potentially be worth those picks.
Still, if we’re grading for perceived value in the present day, the Patriots get knocked a little bit. Day 3 didn’t help a ton. Sam Roberts and Chasen Hines were excellent picks late, and Pierre Strong Jr. provides a dynamic element to the RB room. But overall, the Patriots class could’ve covered more ground.
The SB Nation Mothership
Best pick: Pierre Strong, RB (127)
Worst pick: Bailey Zappe, QB (137)
Nothing will make you doubt yourself like a Patriots draft. It’s impossible to predict anything. There are times they make these weird picks like Cole Strange and they turn into All-Pros, then others when they flame out and we kinda ignore it because of Bill Belichick’s brilliance. That said, this was a fairly weak draft. I like the value of Strong, but I’m really confused taking a fourth round quarterback to be a backup for Mac Jones.
The Patriots had a weird draft.
They took Chattanooga guard Cole Strange with the 29th overall pick in the first round, which was far higher than the late second round or third-round projections from most mock drafts. The Patriots also took a quarterback in Western Kentucky star Bailey Zappe in Round 4. He had a record-setting 2021 season and could be a nice long-term backup, but the pick does nothing to address serious weaknesses on the team’s defense.
New England selected two running backs — South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. in Round 4 and South Carolina’s Kevin Harris in Round 6 — even though the team already had plenty of depth at the position.
The Patriots did add much-needed speed. Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton was the fastest wide receiver in this class and the Pats took him in the second round (50th overall). Strong also was among the fastest running backs in the draft.
The Patriots did not do enough to upgrade their defense, especially at linebacker. This class has the potential to be a pretty lackluster one for head coach Bill Belichick.
We aren’t supposed to question Bill Belichick, but there were some head-scratching selections from the Pats. They started off taking OG Cole Strange in the first round when teams were thinking he would be there in the fourth. With a ton of WR talent available, they reached yet again for Tyquan Thornton. New England has a talented running back room of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson and added two more running backs in this draft. They also selected a backup QB for second-year signal-caller Mac Jones. A confusing draft from top to bottom, but in Belichick, we trust as they say.
Moving on, there weren’t a whole lot of local publications that did a cumulative draft grade for the ‘22 class, so here’s the one we could scrounge up:
CLNS Patriots - Evan Lazar
When you are a rebuilding team, laying up isn’t good enough. The Pats need impact playmakers on both sides of the ball, and it’s hard to envision another multi-pillar draft here.
Obviously, the hope here and among all Patriots fans should be that the 2022 draft class proves us wrong, and we’ll more than welcome that as a possibility for a more optimistic view.
Still, instead of repeating their successful draft strategy from a year ago, Belichick was back to beating to his own drum in a way that hasn’t necessarily worked out in recent years.
And here’s one more fun one for the road.....well, really, it’s not so fun, but it should give you a good little metric for just how, um, pretty much everyone outside of One Patriots Place viewed New England’s Class of ‘22 (shoutout to René Bugner):