New England Patriots: F
Bill Belichick is the best coach in NFL history. But he’s not good at drafting. It’s very difficult to have all the time to do everything you need to do when you’re straddling two reels. Tennessee-Chatanooga’s OG/C Cole Strange was a wild pick at 29th overall. …
The rest of her design didn’t get much better. WR Tyquan Thornton (Baylor) is more of a track star than a WR. RBs Pierre Strong (South Dakota State) and Kevin Harris (South Carolina) were puzzling picks as they have a very crowded RB space anyway. QB Bailey Zappe is a fan favorite but will likely be a career backup.
The rest of the drafting expert world is no friendlier. I saw some of the NFL’s SiriusXM coverage yesterday, and a very old curmudgeon (sounded like Gil Brandt, but don’t hold me by that) said pretty much the same thing. That everyone they got was a reach. And just to throw a bag of lemons in New England’s grave, I added that Mac Jones has peaked and isn’t getting any better and they know it, which is why they attacked Zappe.
And for the most part, the general consensus among Pats fans is one of disappointment. Most friends I’ve heard from sound like they clearly ordered the Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon with the CB and Rally Fun Pack. And instead we got the Wagon Queen Family Truckster in Metallic Pea:
And I’m here to tell you that you might hate this draft class now, but wait ’til you ride it.
Actually no I’m not. I have no more idea how this is going to end than you or Cheah or that Brandt-sounding old fart on the radio. However, what I want to do here is go through the tips to find some definitive takeaways:
The aim was to make the squad faster.
We’ve all scoured the debris field at the Buffalo Wild Card Playoff crash site and came to the unanimous conclusion that the Patriots need to speed up. On both sides of the ball. That the league was trending in that direction and this team was lagging behind. This design is a recognition that the evolutionary trend towards more speed had passed them and it was time to catch up. In 2019, N’Keal Harry had one of the slowest 40 times among wideouts. Thornton (this will take some getting used to) had THE fastest in his group. Just like Strong among the running backs. Both Joneses were among the fastest cornerbacks. And if you really want to break it down, Strange was one of the fastest indoor O-Linemans with a 40 of 5.03. It seems they are moving away from the emphasis on close-range speed and 3-cone times and looking for players who can cover the entire field.
Another focus was adding toughness.
That’s not to say they had a problem in that area. It’s not like they pulled guys out of community college yoga classes and vegan cooking classes. Just that it’s an element you can’t have enough of. Strange keeps drawing obvious comparisons to Logan Mankins, and with good reason. He is a “Culture” type player who is expected to bring an evil and an advantage. But it’s not limited to him. Matt Groh talked about wanting to add both elements with this design. “The most important thing is that you have to consider what the player is doing and how the player is going to help you,” he said. “You want to go faster. Just like if you want to get tougher, you better get tough guys. If you want to go faster, you better go fast guys. I don’t know how many guys out there are faster than Tyquan. So we’re really excited to add him and his explosive style of play. He is fast. He can develop some toughness and some athleticism on the first night and I think these other two guys, Tyquan and Marcus Jones, they’re certainly tough guys too, but in their positions, in the skill positions, they’re fast.”
The plan is to build around Mac Jones.
Ten players drafted, seven on offense. Like virtually all of us, I felt the need to add defense early and often in this case. But in staff meetings and in the war room, it was Opposite Day. They got Strange to protect his 10 or his 2. Thornton was added as the deep threat he lacked in his rookie season. And gave him a pair of running backs with different skills. Strong as a 3rd downpass option and Harris in a more between-tackle role. Plus two development-type late O-Linemen in Hines and Stueber.
Help for the 2022 defense came in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
The lack of off-the-ball linebackers or edge players in a draft class full of them can only mean one thing: It’s time for the guys, who picked them up in the last two drafts and then in Basically in the red shirt were going up. On the sidelines opposite Matthew Judon, that means 2020’s Anfernee Jennings, who hasn’t seen the field, and Josh Uche, who has had a sophomore season in retreat after blitzing brilliantly as a rookie. And the 2021 draft brought Ronnie Perkins, who sat as a rookie. At the second level, it’s Cameron McGrone who had first-round potential before he was injured in Michigan and was drafted in late 2021 as a low-cost, high-ceiling project for that very reason. The fact that they didn’t add anything other than DT Roberts to the front-7 in the sixth draft seems to indicate that they are happy with the additions they made in the previous two drafts.
The top picks are expected to contribute from week 1.
Surely, Strange starts at one of your guard points. The rest of the top five will all be in the mix to some degree, starting with special teams. Jack Jones in particular:
Surely you can see Thornton as the fourth wideout in the spreads, pulling away safety from Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor. Marcus Jones in subpackages. And Strong got the pass on reps that had gone to Brandon Bolden, pending James White’s health.
They like Joneses and Harrises.
Speaking for myself, I need those two Joneses on the field at the same time as Jonathan Jones. And a 21-person package starring Kevin and Damien Harris is within reach.
After all, Belichick isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
That was a blueprint for now, but also very much for the future. If Belichick had envisioned his career ending soon, he wouldn’t have traded for 2023 picks. He wouldn’t have drafted two running backs expecting White to be close to retirement and Damien Harris getting paid soon. And he certainly wouldn’t have drafted Zappe. That was classic GM Bill. Take a promising player in the most leveraged position, knowing they will have a capable backup, and then later develop them into a major trade as they did with Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brisett, among others has done. Look for Zappe to bring a second all-rounder into a trade in 2026. And guess who will make that choice?