When the New England Patriots used the 29th overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft on interior offensive lineman Cole Strange out of Chattanooga they caused quite the stir. Strange, after all, was widely expected to become a third-round pick and consequently appeared to be a significant over-draft late in the first round.
Nonetheless, the Patriots bringing him aboard did make plenty of sense.
Not only was Strange arguably the best guard prospect still available at that point in the draft — Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson were already off the board — he also is an impressive athlete who allows the team to fill a major need. Add it all up and you get a player projected to enter the starting lineup Day 1.
Strange is the top candidate to fill one of the vacant guard spots, after all, and will likely slide in between tackle Isaiah Wynn and center David Andrews on the left side of the line. As such, he will be a major upgrade over the personnel that remained on the roster following the offseason departures of 2021 starter Ted Karras and his right-side counterpart Shaq Mason (whose spot will likely go to third-year man Michael Onwenu).
Seeing Strange enter the starting lineup right away should be expected. There are questions about his actual impact once on the field, though.
Yes, he is immensely talented as both a run blocker and pass protector but history has not been particularly kind to rookie offensive linemen. The following graphic shared by Ben Baldwin of The Athletic serves as a reminder of that:
The Pro Football Focus pass protection grades used as the basis of this analysis are not the definitive measure to quantify success for offensive linemen. They do serve as some form of starting point and a self-contained comparison, however, and are also backed up by other data such as ESPN’s pass-block win rates.
What this comparison shows is that even highly-drafted linemen tend to struggle in their first year in the league. There are some notable outliers — Baldwin names the Dallas Cowboys’ Zack Martin (2014) and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kevin Dotson (2020) at the guard position — but the average O-lineman will have a tough time adjusting to the NFL.
What does this mean for the Patriots and their first-round investment? In a way, little: every player’s situation is different and highly dependent on factors such as the team he is joining.
Those circumstances appear to work in Strange’s favor compared to other rookie linemen, but based on historical precedent expectations probably still need to be adjusted. The 23-year-old coming in and immediately playing on the same level as the players he will help replace — i.e. Ted Karras and Shaq Mason — should not be anticipated.
Doing so would just be measuring him on an unfair scale and, as a result, setting him up for failure.