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Well, that didn’t go the way Patriots fans expected. Or maybe it did, depending on how prophetic/cynical you are.
With several strong defensive players on the board, such as cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., linebacker Nakobe Dean, and edge defender George Karlaftis, Bill Belichick went with need over positional value, selecting Tennessee-Chattanooga guard Cole Strange with the No. 29 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The general consensus among league experts is that Strange probably would have made it well into the second round if the Patriots hadn’t taken him 29th overall. Belichick apparently didn’t agree.
On paper, though, New England fills its need at offensive guard with a well-regarded player with the athletic ability and upside to be the next solid Patriots interior offensive lineman.
With that somewhat shocking first round behind them, the team can now turn its attention to a second and third round Friday that could be even more important for New England than Thursday night was.
As of now, the team has three picks scheduled for Friday night: No. 54 in Round 2 and picks No. 85 and 94 in Round 3. With a bevy of Day 3 picks in hand as well, don’t be surprised if the Patriots make moves up the board to grab more talent on Day 2.
Here are a few players they could have in mind.
The Patriots didn’t appear to value the second wave of cornerbacks — Trent McDuffie, Kaiir Elam and Andrew Booth Jr. — as highly as people thought they should. They opted to trade down rather than take McDuffie or Elam at No. 21 and then passed on Booth, who feels like a prototypical Pats corner, at No. 29 in favor of Strange.
Passing on those first-round corners won’t look nearly as bad if they came away with Gordon in the second round, though.
In terms of playing style, Gordon is very similar to what you get with McDuffie and Booth — a physical, fly-around type of player that isn’t afraid to come up and tackle and has the tools to be disruptive at the catch point.
What’s more: Gordon is probably a better athlete than McDuffie, Elam or Booth, especially posting elite testing numbers with his explosiveness and agility drills.
He also fits the bill of a true “defensive back” who can play any position you want to put him at, not just outside or nickel corner.
“There are some corners who can chill and be on the side, but I feel like I’m the type of corner that wants to put my head down and come in,” he said at the NFL Combine. “Being in that nickel position, having the opportunity to come down and be part of the run fit is something I love to do.”
In short, Gordon could be an incredible chess piece for a Patriots defense in need of speed and athletic ability across the board, which they’ve tried to add with signings of guys like Jabrill Peppers. In that sense, he could make waiting for a cornerback well worth it.
A backup option that’s also gotten some play in mock drafts: Alabama’s Jayln Armour-Davis. The Crimson Tide corner is well-coached, versatile enough to play any scheme the Patriots would want, tough, tenacious (worked his way into a starting spot as a junior) and, of course, from Alabama.
Given the run on receivers that happened in Round 1, it’s hard to think Metchie makes it out of the second round Friday night. The Alabama receiver is even further along in his recovery from an ACL tear than teammate Jameson Williams, suggesting he has a strong chance of playing this year at some point.
Metchie might be the perfect example of the value of waiting until Day 2 to draft a receiver.
Had he not been hurt, he very likely goes in the first round of the draft this year. But when healthy, you could make an argument that he’s a better all-around receiver than any of the guys taken in Round 1.
The Crimson Tide star possesses a strong blend of technical skill, quickness and pure creativity as a route-runner, keeping defenders off-balance with sudden, unpredictable breaks at every level of the defense.
Though he doesn’t have Williams’s monster speed, he has more than enough juice to stack cornerbacks and beat them deep for touchdowns as he often did with Mac Jones as his quarterback two years ago.
He also relishes blocking and doing all the little extra things the Patriots will love.
Metchie might not be home-run hitter people would’ve loved to see New England make a move for in the second round. But the value of picking him in Round 2 is likely a lot better than picking someone like Chris Olave at No. 11 or Jahan Dotson at No. 16.
And if you want a security blanket for Mac Jones, why not give them the guy who’s already been his binky in the past?
Is it somewhat understandable for people to be upset the Patriots didn’t draft Nakobe Dean in the first round? Sure. He’s a very good player — the heartbeat of the best college defense in the country last year — and is (currently) better at least than his teammate Quay Walker who went before him.
But here’s the reality: Dean just didn’t fit the Patriots. He’s fast and covers well, but he’s too small, both height and weight-wise, to handle the responsibilities this defense asks of its linebackers.
On top of that, there are so many good off-ball linebackers on Day 2 and perhaps even Day 3 of this draft that better mesh with their profiles that it made sense to wait.
Wisconsin’s Chenal is one of them.
He’s a physical specimen at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds with rare explosiveness (40.5-inch vertical) and speed (4.52 40) for his size. So basically he gives you everything you want from Dean but even bigger and better. In fact, he’s projected to be one of the most athletic linebackers to come out of the draft in about 35 years.
On the field, he has both the raw power to stone and pancake offensive lineman combined with the speed to knife around blockers to bring down runners in space. He’s also a nightmare for mobile quarterbacks, both as a blitzer and as a spy in the open field who’s difficult to elude with speed or shed with strength.
Sounds like someone who could be very useful in corralling Josh Allen, doesn’t it?
There’s some concern about how his agility might limit his coverage ability overall, but he’s a missile as long as he can keep plays in front of him. If the Patriots were potential on Walker, Chenal could be the next best thing.
Otherwise, keep an eye on Alabama’s Christian Harris or Georgia’s Channing Tindall as linebacker options here.
The Patriots have already sought to build up the middle on one side of the ball in the draft. Why not the other?
Defensive line isn’t necessarily a strong need with Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise and now Carl Davis all figuring to be back in the rotation up the middle. But neither Godchaux (who will be a free agent next year) nor Guy is a sure bet to stick around past this year, and you can always use quality depth up front.
Hall is an incredible athlete for a 6-foot-6, 280-pounder, running a sub-4.9-second 40-yard dash and a 7.25 3-cone time — both of which would’ve put him among the top three performers at the NFL Combine.
But he also gives off some Barmore-esque vibes as a pass-rushing defensive tackle, showing off an ability to turn his raw explosiveness into wrathful bullrushes and busting out quick swims and spins to keep blockers guessing.
With his size and exceptional movement skills, it might even be worth exploring playing Hall as a big outside linebacker who can function as a force player against the run while overwhelming more finesse tackles.
That kind of positional versatility could make him a coveted prospect for the Patriots and one that might be a target of a similar second-round trade-up to the one that landed Barmore last year. Though New England doesn’t need a defensive tackle, it could use another edge defender with depth thin behind Matthew Judon.
Jerod Mayo has said the defense is looking to add speed at every level. Drafting Hall would certainly accomplish that.
If the Patriots wanted to go with a more traditional edge prospect, Kentucky’s Josh Paschal would also be a good Day 2 pick.
Paschal is considered undersized and doesn’t have the ideal length for someone playing on the edge. But he makes up for it by playing with good leverage and strength at the point of attack and otherwise being a tremendous athlete in his own right.
That might make him even more likely than Ronnie Perkins to see the field early in his career if the Patriots did draft him.
Think the Patriots are done adding to the offensive line now that they’ve got Strange? Don’t get too comfortable. Even if New England believes Strange could potentially play anywhere he was needed, there are still big future problems on the offensive line.
Neither tackle spot is fully locked in past next year, with left tackle Isaiah Wynn set to be a free agent and Trent Brown being on a cuttable contract. And though it’s highly unlikely the Patriots would move on from David Andrews next year, the Mason situation should tell you nothing is guaranteed when it comes to Belichick’s ruthless handling of the roster.
Tom is yet another player who could possibly fill in a number of holes for the Patriots: another “put the best five linemen on the field”-type option in terms of versatility.
Scouts have typically suggested Tom, who’s a bit undersized for a tackle, could be best suited to play center in the pros, where his lack of length and exceptional size (6-foot-4, 304 pounds) might not matter as much.
But he’s had a solid two years as a starter at left tackle and proved up to the challenge against first-round pick Jermaine Johnson when Wake Forest played Florida State. He wins with smarts and technique rather than brute strength and is an elite mover when it comes to getting out on the edge or up to linebackers.
In short, he’s almost the prototypical mid-round pick the Patriots usually rely on to fill their voids on the offensive line — the type of selection everyone thought Strange might be on Day 2.
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