The 2022 offseason was going to be about reloading more than rebuilding for the New England Patriots after a quick turn around last year. The Patriots are moving on to their third season post-Tom Brady and are getting ready for the second season in the Mac Jones era. After a terrific rookie season for Jones, it's clear he will be the Patriots QB for the future, signaling for a easy strategy for the team this offseason; build around Mac.
The season ended after a second place finish in the AFC East to the same team that would dominate them in the playoffs, the Buffalo Bills. This made it clear that Mac and the new-look Patriots were on the right track but still had a long way to go.
The team's biggest needs in the off-season were wide receiver and cornerback. However with Bill's 'next man up' mentality, and his second-to-none ability to groom cornerbacks, that position was less likely to be addressed with backups like Joejuan Williams and Jonathan Jones likely to play bigger roles aside Jalen Mills and the returning Malcolm Butler. Which leaves wide receiver and as a secondary, interior o-line as their biggest needs.
It seems like the teams needs were perfectly suited for this offseason as wide receivers and offensive lineman were some of the hottest commodities this year. Yet the Patriots stayed quiet, acquiring zero offensive talent from free agency or trades. This wasn't completely surprising as the Patriots spent $180 million in last year's market, including two receivers (Bourne and Agholar) and two tight ends (Henry and Smith). However, you can argue that only Hunter Henry was worth the money they paid for him, with Kendrick Bourne being a nice but quiet piece.
Cut to the 2022 NFL Draft and the pressure was on for Bill Belichick and company. The Patriots started the day with the #21 pick in the first round and three picks in the first three rounds. They would trade back (naturally) with the Chiefs and acquire two more picks which was very solid. Until the world realized who the prospect was that the Pats were so confident would still be on the board at pick #29.
Cole Strange, offensive guard for Tennesee-Chattanooga. At 6-foot-5 and 307 pounds, Strange isn't a bad prospect at all. However he was a third-round graded prospect who is still very raw especially at pass blocking. The Patriots could have easily selected him with either their #50 or maybe even their #85 pick. This was a HUGE reach and easily the (short term) worst pick of the first round.
They follow that reach, with another in the second round, drafting Tyquan Thornton, wide receiver out of Baylor. Thornton had the third-fastest 40-yard dash and the fastest of any non-cornerback in this draft. but had abysmal hands in his four years at Baylor. He could have easily been drafted in the fourth or even fifth round while other wide receivers like George Pickens, Alec Pierce and Skyy Moore were still on the board. Was Bill's dog drafting for him again this year?
The Patriots would get two corners in their next two picks who have solid potential. Marcus Jones out of Houston being the better of the two with potential to start at the slot at some point this season, and Jack Jones out of Arizona State who will likely find a place within the team in a year or two.
They would also draft two running backs, who have decent potential, especially Pierre Strong Jr. out of San Diego State, but with their stable of backs including Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White and JJ Taylor, where is the value in these picks? To get a fourth and fifth string running back in the fourth round is nothing to be happy about and shows Bill is still looking three years ahead instead of trying to plan for the 2023 season.
The most head-scratching pick of the entire draft was their second fourth-rounder at pick #137, when they drafted Bailey Zappe, the Quarterback from Western Kentucky. Zappe is a good prospect woith an above-average arm, but why in the world would you take a QB one year removed from drafting Mac? At the time of this pick, skill players like WR Khalil Shakir, TE Isaiah Likely and OG Darian Kinnard were all still available and would have fit in the Pats system immaculately for fourth-round picks.
I am still very confused by most of the picks Bill made this year. It was as if he still doesn't trust his team and is rebuilding. I understand going after 'your guy' in the draft but the Patriots made ZERO value picks in the draft and instead went after third-round graded prospects in the first two rounds instead of taking a chance with better-potential picks early. This draft will come back to haunt the Patriots in a year or two when only two starting-caliber players stick around in Strange and Marcus Jones.
The Patriots have been consistently ranked as the worst draft class of the 2022 NFL Draft by experts and by Fans Only Sportz. The Patriots needed to add weapons around Mac Jones this offseason and instead traded their best lineman, Shaq Mason and replaced him with a project player in the draft, and added only two weapons for this season, Thornton and Strong Jr. who most likely will each get less than twenty touches between them.
In Bill We Trust?
For how much longer?
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Make sure to stay tuned as we bring you more NFL Draft content and continue coverage on the New England Patriots all the way through the off-season and through the 2023 NFL season.