New England Patriots NFL Draft Picks & Grades 2022: Cole Strange and Tyquan Thornton Highlight a Draft Class Full of Reaches – Does Bill Belichick Need Help?
Much has been made about the Patriots’ front office and executive turnover in recent years. It may be starting to rear its ugly head as New England has struggled to maintain consistency in player personnel acquisition in recent years. This draft was no different, seeing the team make several reaches with its premium picks. This article will provide a complete draft recap and include analysis and grades for each selection that the Patriots made in the 2022 NFL Draft.
New England Patriots Draft Picks 2022
Round 1 No. 29 OG Cole Strange
Round 2 No. 50 WR Tyquan Thornton
Round 3 No. 85 CB Marcus Jones
Round 4 No. 121 CB Jack Jones
Round 4 No. 127 RB Pierre Strong Jr.
Round 4 No. 137 QB Bailey Zappe
Round 6 No. 183 RB Kevin Harris
Round 6 No. 200 DE Sam Roberts
Round 6 No. 210 OG Chasen Hines
Round 7 No. 245 OT Andrew Stueber
Overall Draft Grade: D
Heading into the 2022 offseason, the Patriots watched Dave Ziegler, longtime executive, and director of player personnel, leave to become the Raiders’ new general manager alongside their new head coach Josh McDaniels. Ziegler took several high-ranking personnel executives with him, and it may have impacted New England’s draft process as it felt like they had a big board of only about 30 players and didn’t have time to scout all of the available talents.
While the NFL media can be criticized at times for groupthink and over-hyping athletic attributes, there is still something to be said about the work that goes into watching the film for hundreds of players every year. The media torched the Patriots for this draft, and a flurry of anonymous executives was also critical. While the Patriots landed a few players who can be contributing talents amid their ten draft picks, it’s difficult to be overly supportive of this draft.
The bottom line is that the Patriots reportedly ignored typical draft consensus and took the players they wanted. Bill Belichick and his staff have developed a bad habit of being overly confident in their own evaluation and reaching for players where they don’t need to. Even if they loved Cole Strange or Tyquan Thornton, they could have traded down, picked up additional capital, and taken those players a round or two later.
Sean McVay’s reaction to the Patriots taking Cole Strange is all time. pic.twitter.com/o33miAbb13
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) April 29, 2022
New England Patriots Draft Grades 2022
Round: 1 Pick: 29 / Cole Strange, OG, Chattanooga
This went down as one of the biggest reaches of the first round, and it’s rather unfortunate as I was a big fan of Cole Strange… as a potential Day 2 pick. It’s quite interesting that the Patriots loved him as a prospect as they typically don’t necessarily highly value athletic testing in the pre-draft process, and that was his biggest selling point. Strange ranked above the 89th percentile in the 40-yard dash, broad jump, three-cone drill, and short shuttle to land with a stellar 9.95 Relative Athletic Score (RAS). The Patriots typically run a very static offensive line and don’t ask their guards to do much pulling in their power-run scheme, which makes his fit all the more puzzling. Strange struggles with a consistent anchor, and he’ll need to pack on some more muscle. It’s also highly concerning that famed former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said he has never seen Strange play a single snap. While I think Strange can be a solid starter, I would have, at the very least, liked to have seen the Patriots trade down and attempt to draft him on Day 2.
Round: 2 Pick: 50 / Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor
The Thornton pick may have been an even bigger reach than the Strange pick. He was the 192nd-ranked player on the Pro Football Focus (PFF) big board and was outside my top-20 at the wide receiver position. Thornton is fast, to be sure – his 4.28-second 40-yard dash ranked in the 98th percentile – and he has a background as a sprinter. That speed helps him separate on routes and will provide a deep-ball element in the Patriots offense they were hoping to get from Nelson Agholor last year. However, Thornton’s slight frame at 181 lbs is concerning, given the press coverage he’ll face in the NFL, and his 2nd percentile 8 1/4” hands are highly concerning. Thornton might be a one-trick pony at the next level, and there were plenty of wide receivers with more refined all-around games available in the second round. Thornton has a Day 3 skill set.
The average ranking of 106 different Big Boards of the Patriots 1st 2 picks:
86 (Cole Strange)
146 (Tyquan Thornton)
Belichick don’t give a fuck. pic.twitter.com/Q4cGSTMO9B
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) April 30, 2022
Round: 3 Pick: 85 / Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
Marcus Jones is an entertaining player who was a true playmaker at Houston – he had five interceptions and 12 pass breakups in 2021. He was also the best kick and punt returner in the country last year and won the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in college football. However, that versatility will be capped significantly in the NFL, with Jones’s 5’8”, 174-pound frame likely limiting him to slot coverage duties. Jones will provide an enticing brand of physicality to the New England defense, and his play speed will serve him well. He will also likely be their starting kick and punt returner and could even get snaps on offense. Still, questions will remain about the Patriots’ outside cornerbacks, and this felt like a luxury pick for a team with much more pressing defensive needs.
Round: 4 Pick: 121 / Jack Jones, CB, Arizona State
The Patriots targeted another slight cornerback here as Jack Jones comes in at just 5’11”, 171 lbs. Unlike Marcus Jones, Jack Jones is also an underwhelming athlete with a 4.51-second 40-yard dash. He also has small 26th percentile hands at 30 3/4”. With those underwhelming athletic attributes, you’d expect to see high-level collegiate production for a fourth-round pick, and that’s not the case – Jones allowed a highly concerning 66% completion rate last year, and his ball production didn’t live up to expectations with his play demeanor. Overall, I saw Jones as a sixth or seventh-round pick, so this is another reach for New England.
Marcus Jones and Jack Jones combined for 8 INTs last season…
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 4, 2022
Round: 4 Pick: 127 / Pierre Strong Jr., RB, South Dakota State
I don’t hate this pick as much as the others for the Patriots, as Pierre Strong Jr. provides a unique element of home-run speed to the backfield that they don’t currently have in Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Strong Jr. ran a blazing 4.37-second 40-yard dash and tested with a 9.35 RAS overall. At 5’11”, 202 lbs, Strong lacks the physical element you want in an every-down running back, and he’s much more of a change-of-pace back. Strong isn’t a particularly creative running back, and his lack of strength in pass protection could limit his third-down viability. However, if the Patriots use him in a one-cut-and-go role and allow him to create space in the open field and hit the home-run plays, he can be a productive member of their backfield.
Round: 4 Pick: 137 / Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky
Despite their remaining needs, especially on defense, the Patriots spent a fourth-round pick on a backup quarterback. The fit makes sense from the standpoint that Zappe has a similar skill set to Mac Jones and would theoretically be able to run the same offense to a solid productivity level should Jones get hurt. Zappe broke FBS passing records with 5,940 yards and 62 touchdowns last season at Western Kentucky. However, he was only pressured on 12.9% of his dropbacks per PFF, and that lack of experience against pressure could prove problematic. I like Zappe as a player, but it felt early to be drafting a developmental backup passer for the Patriots after spending a first-round pick on a quarterback last year.
Bailey Zappe: Led College Football with 48 big time throws last season
Most by a College QB in a season since 2015🎯 pic.twitter.com/WAnDg59WDS
— PFF NE Patriots (@PFF_Patriots) May 5, 2022
Round: 6 Pick: 183 / Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina
Damien Harris is set to enter free agency after this season, and the Patriots rarely give second contracts to their running backs, so it wasn’t surprising to see them target the position in this year’s draft. However, Harris is an underwhelming selection. The South Carolina back saw his productivity decline sharply in 2021 due to health issues, and his back surgery in 2020 is another red flag. He also lacks a natural elusive element to his running style, and he offers little in the pass-catching game. Harris had just one career collegiate fumble and uses his size and power to good effect. Still, his lack of speed and agility will limit his ability to contribute in a more prominent role.
Round: 6 Pick: 200 / Sam Roberts, DE, Northwest Missouri State
The winner of the 2021 Cliff Harris Award as the best small-college defensive player in the country, Roberts had impressive production in his final season with 61 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, and 6.5 sacks for an 11-2 program. Roberts wasn’t invited to the Senior Bowl or the combine, but he held his own at the Shrine Bowl. He has a massive frame at 6’4” and 33 1/2” arms that he used to block five kicks in his collegiate career, and he’ll be a special teams contributor early on. Given his underwhelming athleticism, Roberts needs to improve his pass-rushing technique to see consistent snaps on the defensive line. Still, he has some intriguing tools as a project in the sixth round.
Round: 6 Pick: 210 / Chasen Hines, OG, LSU
Chasen Hines plays with impressive power and aggression as he sustains blocks, and his hands carry a ton of fire in his punches. That makes him a strong fit for the Patriots’ static offensive line, although he has a solid feel for pull blocking if they ask him to do that. Hines lacks the short-area agility to be a consistent pass-protection difference-maker, and his weight fluctuation and injuries at LSU were concerning. However, his ability to provide depth at guard and center can be valuable, and he has a chance to make the roster as a backup offensive lineman with special teams viability.
Round: 7 Pick: 245 / Andrew Stueber, OT, Michigan
Andrew Stueber saw minimal playing time through his first three collegiate seasons, including a redshirt season due to a torn ACL in 2019. However, he worked his way into a starting role by his junior season in 2020 and went on to start 20 games over his final two seasons. As a second-team All-American in 2021, he was part of one of the best offensive lines in the country at Michigan. With excellent leadership traits and a high football IQ, Stueber fits what the Patriots typically look for in draft picks, and he has the ability to provide depth at guard and tackle. He even took snaps at center during practices at the Senior Bowl. Stueber can develop into a starting guard for New England, and he was a great value at this point in the draft.
Andrew Stueber: 83.6 pass blocking grade since 2020. 2nd highest among Big Ten OTs💪 pic.twitter.com/mSbnWgZA4B
— PFF NE Patriots (@PFF_Patriots) May 8, 2022