With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto the upcoming 2022 season.
The team currently has 87 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie offensive lineman Cole Strange.
Name: Cole Strange
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 50)
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-5, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2025 + 5th-year option (2026 or 2027 UFA)
What is his experience? Despite being projected as a potential third-round prospect coming out of Chattanooga, Strange heard his name called in Round 1 earlier this year; the Patriots picked him up 29th overall following a trade-down. Arriving in the NFL only three months ago, his experience at the pro level is naturally limited. So far, Strange has participated in the rookie developmental program, rookie minicamp, organized team activities, mandatory minicamp and the first six practices of training camp.
Before arriving in New England, Strange appeared in 49 games over the course of his six-year college career at Chattanooga — including 44 as a starter along the offensive line. Originally a two-star linebacker out of high school, he was redshirted his true freshman season and eventually transitioned to the offensive line. His first actual season of game action saw him start six contests at left guard. Strange went on to serve as a five-year starter for the Mocs, primarily at left guard but also briefly at left tackle and center.
What did his 2021 season look like? The 2020 season had been a successful one for Strange and saw him earn the Jacobs Blocking Award as the top offensive lineman in the Southern Conference. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic impacting operations all over college football, however, he and his team ended up playing a mere five games. This, in turn, prompted Strange to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA; he stayed in school for a sixth season.
That 2021 campaign turned out to be Strange’s best one to date. Not only was he voted a team captain by his peers, he also started all 11 of Chattanooga’s games and proved himself a powerful force no matter where he lined up. The super senior, after all, did not just spend time at his usual position of left guard, he also started one game at left tackle. Regardless of where the Mocs used him, Strange dominated his competition. While most of it was of Division I quality, he also performed very well against Kentucky’s talented D-line.
All in all, Strange surrendered a mere five quarterback pressures throughout the season while showcasing his elite athleticism as a run blocker. As a result, the accolades came flying his way again: Strange was named first-team All-American, first-team All-Southern and, again, recognized as the top offensive lineman in the conference. Additionally, he received an invitation to both the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine — an opportunity to prove himself against and in comparison with Power 5 prospects.
What is his projected role? While some teams viewed him more as a center than a guard coming out of college, there is no doubt about which role Strange will play in New England. The 24-year-old has been a plug-and-play starter at left guard seemingly from Day 1. As such, he will help replace free agency departee Ted Karras; Karras was the Patriots’ starting left guard in 2021 and Strange, who started 42 games at that spot in college, has now been asked to take over and therefore line up in between tackle Trent Brown and center David Andrews.
Does he have positional versatility? Even though the majority of his snaps at Chattanooga came at left guard, Strange has experience in other spots as well. He started one game at center in 2019 and another at left tackle in 2021. He also has a handful of snaps at right tackle on his résumé. The Patriots are likely not planning to take advantage of the positional flexibility he displayed in college, but it is a nice trait to have — just think of former New England left guard Joe Thuney, who ended up seeing action at center and both tackle spots as well.
What is his special teams value? Just like every offensive lineman, Strange has limited value when it comes to the kicking game. He is a superb athlete — in fact, he is one of the best athletes along the interior offensive line to come out of college in the last 35 years — but nonetheless is only expected to see action on one special teams unit: he will fill in as a protector on field goal and extra point kicks; possibly taking over Karras’ role at right guard next to long snapper Joe Cardona.
What is his salary cap situation? Strange signed a standard four-year rookie contract after joining the Patriots, coming at a cost of $12.26 million plus the optional fifth-year option for the 2026 season. As has become custom in the NFL through the years, the entirety of that deal is fully guaranteed. In 2022 this means that he is carrying a cap number of $2.23 million: Strange will play on a base salary of $705,000 and will also be earning a $1.52 million proration of his $6.09 million signing bonus.
How safe is his roster spot? No matter how you look at it, Strange is a lock to make the Patriots’ roster this year. He was just drafted in the first round, is playing on a fully-guaranteed four-year deal, and will fill in as New England’s starting left guard. Unless the injury bug bites, there is no question that Strange will be on the active roster come the regular season — and end up playing close to 100 percent of offensive snaps week-in and week-out.
One-sentence projection: Strange’s name will only rarely be called throughout the season, which will be a good thing for the Patriots’ LG1.