The New England Patriots entered the 2022 NFL Draft with some clear holes on both sides of the ball that needed to be addressed. However, it appears that filling those was not necessarily the all-overruling agenda for the team.
Instead, they were trying to get faster and tougher. Listening to director of player personnel Matt Groh during his post-draft media conference calls on Friday and Saturday, and comparing his statements to the players selected, it was not hard to get the impression that the Patriots were looking to add those two elements in particular.
“You look at a couple of the guys we added yesterday, a couple of the guys we added today, there’s some pretty fast times,” Groh said after the seventh round came to an end on Saturday night.
“At certain positions, there’s only so many ways to handle speed, and these guys wake up every morning and they’re fast. It’s a great gift I was never fortunate enough to have. But we’re going to try and put them in the best position to use that speed and open things up for us.”
After drafting Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton, the fastest wide receiver at this year’s Scouting Combine, in the second round, the team picked the fastest running back at the event in the fourth: South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong. Both players are longer-term investments at their respective positions, but instantly offer some elite speed the Patriots offense has been missing in 2021.
On the defensive side of the ball, Houston cornerback Marcus Jones is expected to do the same. While second-level speed still remains a question — albeit one that might be answered by the hybrid safeties and linebackers already under contract — Jones gives New England a second speedster at the position alongside veteran slot corner Jonathan Jones.
Groh also believes the Patriots also found some suitable players to improve the overall toughness of the team.
“We’re always looking to be tougher. We’re always looking to add talent,” he said on Saturday. “Lots of times you’ve got a talented guy who’s not very tough and the coach says, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get tougher, we’ve got to get tougher!’ But they keep playing the talented guy.
“A wise man once told me, you want to have a tough team, you’d better have tough players. We’re always looking to add tough players and speed. To be able to add some speed there to the perimeter and some athleticism inside, I mean, who’s not looking for those things?”
How the addition of those speedy and tough players will impact the team heading into 2022 remains to be seen. However, it is obvious that the Patriots placed a high priority on these two elements during this year’s draft process.