Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NFL. Each week we ask questions of the most plugged-in Patriots fans and fans across the country.
The New England Patriots allowed reporters into their practices only a handful of times this offseason, but that was still enough to get a first impression of the team’s rookie class. As a whole, the group was rather quiet as far as its starter-level opportunities were concerned. However, two players in particular stood out: Cole Strange and Jack Jones.
Strange was selected with the 29th overall pick in the first round earlier this year, and he appears to be a plug-and-play starter at the left guard position previously manned by Ted Karras. That did not come as too much of a surprise, though: the Chattanooga product was projected as a Day 1 starter despite his FCS background.
Jones, on the other hand, had to wait until the third day of the draft to hear his name called after a tumultuous college career that saw him spend time at USC, Moorpark College and Arizona State. He was not picked until the 121st overall selection in the fourth round, and his outlook was somewhat uncertain: he does have some enticing traits to work with, but has some red flags related to his off-field history and size.
And yet, New England’s coaching staff gave Jones some starter-level reps during organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. He had some downs to go along with ups, but the 24-year-old in general showed some promise.
Accordingly, Patriots fans are feeling quite optimistic about the fourth-rounder with one month to go until training camp: the results of SB Nation’s latest Reacts survey show him as the projected number two behind only Strange in terms of rookie perspective.
Whereas 54 percent of fans voted for Strange when asked to name the rookie who will have the biggest impact in 2022, 26 went with the young cornerback. For comparison, New England’s second- and third-round choices — wide receiver Tyquan Thornton and cornerback Marcus Jones — received only 8 and 7 percent of the vote, respectively.
Of course, expectations need to be tempered to some degree. While, yes, Jones getting starter reps during the offseason might be a sign of things to come, he has yet to prove himself against NFL physicality: OTAs and mandatory minicamp are strictly no-contact, meaning that press coverage and the like are only simulated.
If Jones truly wants to compete for a high-impact role on the Patriots’ new-look outside cornerback depth chart this season, he first has to hold his own in training camp and preseason. Until then, any dose of optimism has to be taken with a grain of salt.
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