The 2021 NFL Draft was met with critical acclaim, it was met with media pundits and analysts clamoring about Belichick finally "nailing a draft," after wildly unsuccessful punching bag N'Keal Harry was taken ahead of numerous budding stars. It seemed as though the Patriots front office was finally turning the corner on making better picks that could contribute and not leave as many question marks in their wake.
Then the 2022 NFL Draft happened.
It didn't take long. It took 28 picks.
Originally scheduled to pick 21st overall, the Patriots reverted back to their old ways and headed backwards. A trade with the Chiefs sent us extra mid-round picks, and the 29th overall pick. Then chaos ensued. Media hot take artists, fans, and so called, "experts," who are only relevant around draft time were left scratching their heads and shouting from the rooftops that Belichick had officially lost his mind. Did he just take a guy that was projected for the 3rd round...in the 1st round? And the rollercoaster just kept rolling as the draft kept going.
1st Round, 29th Overall: Cole Strange, G, Chattanooga
The pick that started the pandemonium. Kiper had him "graded as a late 2nd or 3rd rounder." ESPN gave some half baked percentage about if he would've been there at pick 54, when the Pats were slated to pick in the 2nd round. Fans flocked to Twitter to announce their displeasure in agreement with assessments based on very little besides video compilations, whatever verified analyst disagreed with it, and whichever media personality decided to continue their hot take career by taking the easy bait.
The fact is, that Strange can play. He was rated as the 3rd OG in most boards, and where someone is selected is always relative to what a team actually needs and how they view players. By taking Strange, it was overlooked that the Patriots had filled a hole on the offensive line. Why? Because people didn't like where he was taken. He was in fact, the third OG taken. Was there other talent available that made sense? Sure. People wanted Nakobe Dean so badly at 29. Until he lasted until the 3rd round because of a report of an injury that he doesn't want to get surgery for. Would Strange have been there at 54? Why risk the chance that he's not if he's someone you 100% are convinced of?
Strange is a tough, athletic guard who can fill in and play. He's a fighter and loves the game of football. He's quite literally an embodiment of the Patriot Way. Will he be an instant upgrade over Shaq Mason? More than likely not, but it allows some flexibility along the offensive line. Even more importantly, it doesn't leave a glaring hole while trying to block for Mac Jones.
2nd Round, 50th Overall: Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor
For the second straight round, the Patriots traded with the Chiefs, this time in reverse order. The Pats moved up 4 spots in order to snag the fastest man in combine history. And, it was a wide receiver! But the next round of critics came back in full force for the Patriots snagging Thornton. Kiper said he thought Thornton was a 4th rounder, another report said that someone had Thornton as their top WR at that point in the draft. Who's to know? One fact that can't be argued was that most people believed there would be a significant run on WRs in the 2nd round. Patriots fans loved the thought of pairing John Metchie with Mac Jones, but Nick Caserio snagged him for the Texans at 44, the Giants made a "reach" of their own by taking Wan'Dale Robinson just one pick earlier at 43. So why did the Giants not get the same blow back? Cause we're the Patriots and the criticism comes from all sides, even our own fan base.
Just six picks later, the Patriots moved up and tabbed Tyquan Thornton as the next Patriots WR. He brings height at 6'3, great hands, and absolute speed. He ran to an unofficial combine record of 4.21 in the 40 yard dash, he ran a 4.28 officially. Pats fans watched as Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill ended up in their division, and wondered whether the Patriots ever gonna get speed. Now they got him. So why the blow back? Because he "went too early." As noted, Kiper said he thought Thornton was a 4th round pick, but that's also excusing that the next 3 out of 4 picks after the Patriots were wide receivers. If the report was that another team had him as their top guy left, that team realistically could've been the Steelers (who took George Pickens), Colts (who took Alec Pierce), or the Chiefs (who took Sky Moore) who traded their main significant speed to Miami. Worth noting that ESPN again threw up another percentage about if Thornton would've been there at 54 (or later) and it was somewhere in the high to mid 80s, but when 3 of the next 4 picks are WRs, that percentage most likely drops and hurts that narrative.
"We need to get faster everywhere." - The Patriots front office. Super athletic and fast? Thornton checks that box.
3rd Round, 85th Overall: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
The first pick not to be universally panned! He's a cornerback, check. He's fast, check. He's a kick and punt returner, check. He projects as a slot corner in the NFL as a 5'8 corner, but it's still a position of need. His speed is a big plus when trying to stop those pesky drag routes. After passing on Trent McDuffie, who the Chiefs selected with the 21st pick acquired from the Patriots, and Andrew Booth having to wait out Ed Marinaro taking us on a painfully long and drawn out pick announcement, the Patriots addressed other needs. Marcus Jones also falls into the "we need speed" category, and he should be able to contribute immediately, whether that be defensively, special teams, or a mix of both.
4th Round, 121st Overall: Jack Jones, CB, Arizona State
Another round, another Jones, another corner. Corner is still a need, and while it seems as though there is a shift to a zone scheme coming, Jack Jones has good man coverage skills, good speed, and is willing to put himself in there to make tackles. The Pats cornerback room looked to be at its weakest point in years when J.C. Jackson found himself signing with Los Angeles, so addressing the cornerback position was more of a "must" instead of a media driven "need."
The Patriots CB room includes: Jalen Mills, Malcolm Butler, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones (R), Marcus Jones (R), Shaun Wade, Terrance Mitchell, and Joejuan Williams.
As far as this group goes, Williams' days seem to be numbered on the Patriots roster. Mitchell projects as a special teams player if he even makes the roster. The rest we will have to see. But it's a start in the right direction.
4th Round, 127th Overall: Pierre Strong Jr., RB, South Dakota State
It was just assumed by most Patriots fans and writers that RB would be addressed at some point. Was it a huge need? Not really. Are they in dire need of RB help after a quite successful season from Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson and James White returning? Not really. But nonetheless, Strong is a New England Patriot. Strong Jr. has good speed, and good patience, if there's a knock on him it's his lack of pass protection and his okay hands. He ran for 40 touchdowns and over 4,500 yards in his collegiate career with the Jack Rabbits, and while it shouldn't be expected that he contribute right away, it could be a sign of things to come due to the injuries the position saw last season. But just how much could we see from him? The proverbial redshirt year for Pats RBs might be returning.
4th Round, 137th Overall: Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky
The FBS all time single season passing yards and TD leader was selected by the New England Patriots in a move that confused ESPN's Rece Davis for at least 3 other draft picks. While Zappe wasn't among the top 3 QB's in anyone's draft board, the fact that he was taken before future Commander, UNC alum, Sam Howell, perplexed media and fans. And while Howell projected as a better passer who can be a starter some day, Zappe projects as more of a career back up. With Mac Jones firmly set up to be the starter for the Patriots, why take a QB? Matt Groh explained that it's not a position you want to be behind on.
Brian Hoyer is getting older, and is close to the end of his career, but he's a good mentor for Mac. Jarrett Stidham left more to be desired, he was never given his full chance to start, and maybe for good reason. The addition of Mac Jones was initially thought to be the coup-de-grace for Stidham's time in New England. Some even thought the Patriots might be able to milk some draft capital out of it. But Stidham stayed. But now with Zappe being taken in almost an identical draft spot, it appears the door will be shut on the Stidham Era in Foxboro.
Zappe is more of a project so the need to develop him will make sure any question of him taking over is dead before they start. Zappe has good pocket awareness and only an okay arm, and profiles a lot like Mac Jones, except with a much bigger skill gap in favor of Jones. It's why it makes Zappe an interesting pick. The last time the Patriots developed QBs, they were named Jimmy Garropolo and Jacoby Brissett. And let's not forget Matt Cassel. Who knows if that's where the road leads with Zappe?
6th Round, 183rd Overall: Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina
Adding another RB? Why not?
Harris had a disappointing final season with Gamecocks that was capped off by running for 182 yards in a bowl game, but the back surgery he received in 2020 gave teams enough to worry about. He has good instincts and good size to show power, and could develop nicely into the backfield if he's able to stay healthy and get back to what made scouts take notice prior to the surgery.
So what does this mean for the Patriots?
The RB room for the Patriots looks like: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, Pierre Strong Jr. (R), Kevin Harris (R), J.J. Taylor, and Devine Ozigbo.
It'd be fair to assume that Ozigbo is probably already on the outside looking in, but this could mean that J.J. Taylor is also on the outside looking in. If Kevin Harris doesn't get sent to the practice squad, that would certainly mean Taylor would have a harder time sticking around. However, if Kevin Harris does get sent, could that mean that Taylor takes over the special teams role that Brandon Bolden vacated? Everyone likes to pretend that late round picks don't matter, but they certainly do present a lot of questions that will need to be answered.
6th Round, 200th Overall: Sam Roberts, DT, Northwest Missouri State
The late rounds are for depth pieces (unless you're looking for a certain QB from Michigan) and they grabbed an interior lineman with this pick. Roberts faces some stiff competition to make the roster, but one way that may be accomplished is through special teams. Roberts was able to block multiple kicks in college, and while the talent level isn't as high at Northwest Missouri State as it is at say, Alabama?, blocking kicks will be a big help to make the team for a 6th rounder. After the Patriots saw their special teams start to take a dip last season, it makes sense that Belichick and company would be looking in the draft in order to find some kind of help in turning the tables.
6th Round, 210th Overall: Chasen Hines, G, LSU
The offensive line was addressed in the first and everyone batted an eye, but in the 6th, it's about depth. It's not every year that you can find Michael Onwenu, but it's still worth a shot. At such a storied program, LSU produces quality offensive lineman, so a late round flyer that they might develop into a quality rotational NFL lineman is worth a shot. There's no guarantee he will be able to crack the final roster, but depth along the offensive line has proved to be crucial across the NFL in the past several years. If Hines is able to work on his technique and footwork, he could develop into another late round pick along the offensive line for the Patriots.
7th Round, 245th Overall: Andrew Steuber, OL, Michigan
Another late round pick from Michigan? Gold mine. To be fair, everyone made the same joke about Michael Onwenu. Standing at 6'7 (or 6'6 depending on who you ask) and 325 pounds, Steuber is a force. He's got good run blocking skills when using his big frame to wall off defenders, and while he tends to do okay against the pass rush, his technique tends to cause some issues for him. As a 7th round pick, there's no guarantee to make the roster, but his versatility along the offensive line at guard and tackle should allow him to have a real fighting chance to make it. Considering the injury history along the line, versatility will be key going forward for the New England Patriots.
Overall the draft isn't nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Is it a great draft? Too soon to tell. According to some guy who knows a guy who knows a guy's mock draft that he posted on twitter, it's a horrendous draft. Absolutely out of touch, and proof that Belichick has lost his marbles. The draft picks look horrible, according to people who can view the future production and formed their opinions off of so called, "expert," opinions.
Beating up the draft picks before they ever played based off of what "analysts" or "experts" say, is a weird way to go about things. Go sit down, watch some of their game film. Do your own scouting and form your own opinions. Their job is to get views, make assumptions, and guess where they think they should go. It's not law, it's not set in stone.
Will they all be great picks? No. There's not a single GM that has a 100% success rate when it comes to the draft.
Do they all have to become hall of fame quality players in order to consider this a good draft? Find a draft class for one team where every pick was that good.
Let the kids play before condemning the draft. Only their time and effort will show whether they were the right pick.