When game-changing names on defense like Jermaine Johnson, Devin Lloyd and Trent McDuffie were still sitting on the board as the Patriots’ pick approached during Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday night, it looked like the Pats were about to get younger and faster on that side of the ball, making a lot of people very happy.
As he usually does, Bill Belichick had other ideas.
In a fairly predictable move – although it was somewhat surprising once certain guys started to fall in the team’s lap – the Patriots passed on the elite defensive help and traded with Kansas City, moving back to the 29th spot while also acquiring picks 94 and 121. The most surprising thing wasn’t that Belichick was passing on a linebacker or corner, or even that he was moving back.
It was what he ultimately did with the pick.
Cole Strange is the newest member of the team after the 6’6, 301lb. guard out of Chattanooga (from Knoxville, TN) was Belichick’s choice. Strange was widely considered a third-round guy, but Belichick believed he was the right guy at that time and the trade back with the Chiefs was the right move.
“There were a couple options there. We did what we felt like was best and made the best decision that we — felt like we made the best decision we could, so that’s what we did,” he said in a Zoom very early Saturday morning following the final pick of the first round. “If we had stayed at 21, then we would have obviously picked somebody. Probably a good chance it would have been (Strange)…there were several teams that we talked to prior to when we made the trade. There were some other conversations going on there, but ultimately that’s the one we chose.”
The passing up of some very, very good defensive talent while teams in the division like the Jets and Bills got significantly better on Thursday is going to be hard for fans and maybe even Robert Kraft to accept until they see what Strange can do on the field. In fairness, the trade and accumulation of multiple picks for Friday does give New England more flexibility in a draft that is widely considered to be much more favorable on days two and three. Strange is going to be a guy who plays right away and can play multiple positions on the line. Obviously, offensive line was one of the huge holes that needed to be filled this weekend, it’s just that nobody really saw it happening this way once the board began to play itself out.
“He’s a pretty athletic guy with good size, smart. He does a lot of things, has a lot of good tools to work with,” said Belichick. “He’s got a long way to go like every player does when he comes into the NFL, but look forward to working with him…Cole fits well into our team and our system. Obviously think he’s a good player.”
There’s a very good chance Strange is a pillar of the line for the next five-plus years in front of Mac Jones and we look back on the selection fondly, but for now, the New England draft process continues to have a lot of folks scratching their heads.