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Patriots Strange Draft Class
New England Patriots

Patriots, Belichick & Their ‘Strange’ 2022 NFL Draft Class

  • Justin Melo
  • May 2, 2022
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As we sort through the clutter of the post-draft craziness, many have identified the New England Patriots as a franchise that strung together one of the more peculiar draft classes across the league. Head Coach Bill Belichick has largely moved to the beat of his own drum throughout an illustrious almost-50-year career in football and New England’s 2022 draft selections prove that Belichick continues to remain true to himself while ignoring outside noise and criticism. It is, however, worth questioning if Belichick’s stubbornness and stuck-in-his-ways approach is hampering the immediate and future outlook of the Patriots.

No first-round selection dropped more jaws around the league than when the Patriots selected offensive guard Cole Strange from Chattanooga with the No. 29 overall selection. Strange gained a bunch of fans throughout the pre-draft process, myself included, as the annual small-schooler that took full advantage of the pre-draft circuit. Strange’s ascension from unknown prospect to a borderline top-100 talent reminded evaluators of Quinn Meinerz and Ben Bartch, who similarly went from underdogs to the No. 98 and 116 overall selections in the 2020 and 2021 NFL Drafts, respectively. Strange, like Meinerz and Bartch did before him, did his draft stock a sizable favor by holding his own against talented competition at this year’s Senior Bowl. The obvious difference here is that Meinerz and Bartch were drafted in the appropriate and expected range following their rise, whereas Belichick couldn’t care less about any of that. 

A sixth-year senior who took advantage of expanded eligibility due to the pandemic, Strange appeared in a healthy 49 career games at Chattanooga, with 41 starts at left guard. Strange’s expansive collegiate career means he’s an older prospect, which is another reason why his first-round selection was so surprising. NFL teams prefer to draft younger prospects that can reach their ceiling, particularly with premium first-round selections. Once again, Belichick doesn’t care. It’s likely Belichick identified Strange as the ideal Patriot, potentially due to his try-hard work ethic and ability to rise to the occasion. The work environment in Foxboro has often been described as difficult and strenuous and Strange’s rugged come-from-nothing approach is a sound fit for the culture. This likely trumped any concerns regarding value for Belichick.

Strange should possess an opportunity to immediately contribute and start in New England following the offseason departures of Shaq Mason and Ted Karras. Strange may especially be viewed as a like-for-like replacement for Mason in New England’s starting lineup. Mason was traded from the Patriots to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this offseason for a minuscule return solely consisting of a fifth-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, despite earning rave reviews for his play throughout the 2021 season. It’s yet another questionable example of Belichick moving to the beat of his own drum. The Patriots were tasked with replacing more than 900 snaps at right guard in Mason’s absence and that’s where Strange likely factors into the equation.

The surprises kept rolling from there.

For as stunning as Strange’s selection in the first round was, New England’s decision to draft former Baylor receiver Tyquan Thornton with the 50th overall selection in the second round was equally shocking. Thornton undoubtedly captured the attention of NFL decision-makers by running a blazing and combine-topping (among his position group) 4.28 in the 40-yard dash. Thornton was expected to get drafted in the third or fourth round despite the testing results and it certainly qualified as a major shock to witness him get drafted before more polished pass-catching prospects such as George Pickens, Skyy Moore and Alec Pierce, who came off the board in short succession after the Patriots announced the Thornton pick. The fit is rather straightforward. The Patriots’ offense desperately needs a field-stretcher if they hope to witness starting quarterback Mac Jones take a step forward as a sophomore signal-caller in 2022. Thornton quenches their thirst for speed, but was once again yet another example of Belichick ignoring groupthink while reaching for “his guy” several rounds earlier than projected.

The Patriots later spent a pair of Day 3 selections on running backs (Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris), despite already rostering several high-level difference makers at the position, including Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and James White. Strong is an exciting prospect that could potentially carve out a role for himself as a change-of-pace option, but doubling down at what’s already a position of strength was rather curious. 

The Patriots also drafted a quarterback in the fourth round by way of Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe. It’s a sign that the Jarrett Stidham experiment is likely nearing the end of its line. Belichick previously drafted Stidham with a fourth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, but Stidham has hardly looked capable of developing into a NFL-worthy quarterback. Zappe possesses long-term upside as a backup quarterback and he’s well-suited to run the offense Jones currently operates under center. For a roster that has some catching up to do if they hope to contend for the AFC East title alongside the elite Buffalo Bills, resurgent Miami Dolphins and improving New York Jets, drafting a backup quarterback one year after drafting your franchise signal-caller is a highly questionable allocation of resources.

Perhaps none of this should be an overwhelming surprise. Belichick has always moved to the beat of his own drum and he certainly couldn’t care less about what the masses think of his team-building, culture-comes-first roster approach. His selections and decision-making throughout the 2022 NFL Draft qualifies as the most extreme example of that belief. If the class fails to develop and confirms the less-than-desired reputation it’s currently being straddled with, it will be viewed as a historic failure that held the Patriots back.