It's often said that you can't evaluate an NFL draft in the immediate aftermath. You have to give it some time to see how it all plays out in the long run. It's a philosophy I happen to agree with. Which is why I've given the 2022 Patriots draft a full day before evaluating it. Which is time enough to draw a few definite conclusions.
By and large, the Patriots are getting crushed for this one. Our own Steven Cheah gave them a grade that should have Bill Belichick missing camp to go to summer school, even if his parents can't get their deposit back:
New England Patriots: F
Bill Belichick is the best Coach in NFL history. But he is not good at the Draft. If's very difficult to have all the time to do everything you'd need to do if you're straddling two roles. The OG/C Cole Strange out of Tennessee-Chatanooga was a wild pick at #29 overall. ...
The rest of their draft didn't get a ton better. WR Tyquan Thornton (Baylor) is more a track star than a WR. RBs Pierre Strong (South Dakota State) and Kevin Harris (South Carolina) were puzzling picks given they have a very crowded RB room as it is. QB Bailey Zappe is a fan favorite, but he'll likely be a career-backup.
The rest of the draft punditry world is not being any kinder. I caught some of the NFL's SiriusXM coverage yesterday and one very old curmudgeon (sounded like Gil Brandt, but don't hold me to that), was saying very much the same thing. That everyone they got was a reach. And, just to dump a bag of lime into New England's grave, adding that Mac Jones has reached his peak and not going to get any better and they know that, which is why they used a pick on 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'd distinctly ordered the Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon with the CB and the Rally Fun Pack. And instead we got the Wagon Queen Family Truckster in Metallic Pea:
And I'm here to tell you, you might hate this draft class now, but wait til you drive it.
Actually, no I'm not. I have no more idea how this is going to play out than you or Cheah or the Brandt-sounding old fart on the radio. What I am here to do though is go through the picks to find a few definitive takeaways:
The goal was to add speed to the roster.
We all sifted through the debris field at the crash site of the Wild Card playoff in Buffalo and reached the unanimous conclusion that the Patriots needed to get faster. On both sides of the ball. That the league had been trending this way and this team was behind the curve on that. This draft is an acknowledgement that the evolutionary trend toward more speed had passed them by, 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. As did Strong among the running backs. Both Jones were among the fastest cornerbacks. And, if you want to really drill down, Strange was one of the fastest interior O-lineman, with a 40 of 5.03. It would appear that they are moving away from the emphasis on short-area quickness and 3-Cone times, and looking for players who can cover ground across the field.
Another emphasis was adding toughness.
This is not to suggest they've had a problem in this area. It's not like they've been drafting guys out of yoga sessions and vegan cooking classes at the community college. 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's a "culture" type player, expected to bring a nastiness and an edge. But it's not limited to him. Matt Groh spoke about the desire to add both elements with this draft. "Number one thing is you've got to consider what the player does and how the player is going to help you," he said. "You want to get faster. Just like if you want to get tougher, you'd better get tough guys. You want to get faster, you'd better get fast guys. I don't know how many guys out there that are faster than Tyquan. So, we're really excited to be able to add him and his explosive playmaking. He is fast. To be able to get 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 at their positions, at the skill positions, they are fast."
The plan is to build around Mac Jones.
Ten players drafted, seven on the offensive side. Like virtually all of us, I was all about adding defense, early and often in this one. But in the personnel meetings and the War Room, it was Opposite Day. They got Strange to protect his 10 or his 2. Added Thornton as the deep threat he lacked in his rookie season. And gave him a pair of running backs with different skill sets. Strong as the 3rd down passing option, and Harris in a more between-the-tackles role. Plus two late, developmental type O-linemen in Hines and Stueber.
Help for the 2022 defense came in the drafts of 2020 and 2021.
The lack of any off-the-ball linebackers or edge players in a draft class full of them can mean only one thing: It's time for the guys they took in the last two drafts and then basically redshirted to step up. On the edge opposite Matthew Judon, that means 2020's Anfernee Jennings, who hasn't seen the field, and Josh Uche, who had a step-back sophomore season after flashing brilliantly as a rookie. And the 2021 draft brought Ronnie Perkins, who sat as a rookie. On the second level, it's Cameron McGrone, who had first round potential before getting injured at Michigan, and was drafted late in 2021 as a low cost/high ceiling project for just this reason. The fact they didn't add to the Front-7 other than DT Roberts in the sixth, would seem to indicate they're happy with the additions they made in the two previous drafts.
The top picks will be expected to contribute from Week 1.
Certainly Strange is starting at one of your guard spots. The rest of the first five will all be in the mix to some extent or another, beginning with special teams. Especially Jack Jones:
Certainly you can see Thornton as fourth wideout in spreads drawing safeties away from Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor. Marcus Jones in sub packages. And Strong getting the passing down reps that had been going to Brandon Bolden, depending on James White's health.
They like Joneses and Harrises.
Speaking for me, I need both of these Joneses on the field with Jonathan Jones at the same time. And a 21-personnel package with Kevin and Damien Harris is very much within our grasp.
Finally, Belichick is not going anywhere in any sort of future that is forseeable.
This was a draft for now, but also very much for the future. If Belichick imagined his career ending any time soon, he wouldn't have traded back for 2023 picks. He would not have drafted two running backs in anticipation that White is close to retirement and Damien Harris will be getting paid soon. And for certain he would not have drafted Zappe. That was classic GM Bill. Taking a promising player at the most high leverage position, knowing that he'll have a capable backup, then develop him into a major trading asset down the road, the way he did Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brisett, among others. Look for Zappe to bring a second rounder in a trade in 2026. And guess who'll be be making that selection?