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A year ago, the consensus among experts following the 2021 NFL Draft was that the Patriots had one of the best classes after the seven-round event.
So far, those experts have mostly been proven right. Quarterback Mac Jones led New England to the playoffs as a rookie while defensive tackle Christian Barmore and running back Rhamondre Stevenson were key contributors to the 10-win team.
Following the 2022 NFL Draft, there’s another consensus among experts surrounding their draft class. This time, though, it’s the opposite.
Most draft analysts graded New England’s 2022 class among the worst in the league.
Here’s how draft experts graded the Patriots’ 2022 draft class:
ESPN’s draft expert gave the Patriots the lowest draft grade for any team over the weekend. Kiper shared that he was confused by New England’s first two picks.
“Are we allowed to question a draft from Bill Belichick? The Patriots haven’t exactly lit it up over the past few Aprils, though the Mac Jones pick from 2021 appears to be a hit,” Kiper wrote. “I just don’t think they got value with their first two picks this year. Cole Strange (29) is a nice guard, but I didn’t see a first-round pick on tape. He likely would have been on the board when the Pats picked in the middle of Round 2. I know a hole opened up at guard when Shaq Mason was traded to the Bucs, but value matters in the draft, and Strange needs to play at a Pro Bowl level for years to come to justify this selection.
“In Round 2, there were several better wide receivers available when New England took Tyquan Thornton (50), who didn’t even make my list of the top 25 wideouts in this class. Yes, he has blazing speed — he ran a 4.28-second 40 at the combine — but he needs a lot of work on his all-around game. Alec Pierce, George Pickens, Skyy Moore and Jalen Tolbert all would have been better picks. It’s another selection without value.”
Kiper did like a pair of picks the Patriots made in the middle rounds. However, a couple of Round 4 picks left him head-scratching, too.
“I do like Marcus Jones (85), who could be the Pats’ new starting slot corner and is an electric return man. And Pierre Strong Jr. (127) is my favorite running back in this class; he ran a 4.37-second 40 at the combine and has some juice once he hits a hole,” Strong wrote. “I don’t really understand why New England took quarterback Bailey Zappe (137) to back up Mac Jones in Round 4, and I thought cornerback Jack Jones (121) went about 70 picks too high.
“The plus of this Pats draft is that they added a 2023 third-round selection when Carolina traded up for Matt Corral, but that isn’t enough to save it from being my lowest-rated class.”
Reuter gave draft grades for every team for each day of the draft, grading the Patriots lowly compared to others on Day 1 (C) and Day 2 (C+). While Reuter liked the Patriots’ Day 3 selections (A) a bit more, that wasn’t enough to save them from getting a C+ in his eyes.
“Predictably, New England traded down in the first round to gain picks; Strange is a solid player who will play for a decade but was not expected to be selected in the top 50, much less the first round,” Reuter wrote. “Thornton’s speed was coveted, but trading a pick to get him in the top 50 was surprising, as well. I predicted New England would select Marcus Jones, a diminutive but competitive slot corner and returner, in the third round.
“Jack Jones is another small but feisty corner who could beat out veterans who underperformed last year. Zappe’s a director from the pocket with nice anticipation and a bit more zip in his arm than given credit for. Roberts was one of my favorite defensive line sleeper picks as he creates consistent pressure up front. The athletic Hines and sturdy Stueber could be good finds late in the draft like current starter Mike Onwenu was two years ago.”
Like Kiper, PFF wasn’t a fan of the Patriots’ first two picks.
“Cole Strange is the biggest reach of Round 1, as the Chattanooga Moc was 86th on PFF’s big board,” PFF wrote. “His anchor and footwork are suspect, making it highly unlikely he slots in as a major contributor early on. On a positive note, Strange is a versatile and elite athlete who excels in space. The 6-foot-5, 307-pounder ranked above the 89th percentile at the position historically at the combine in the 40-yard dash (5.03 second), broad jump (120-inches), three-cone drill (7.44 seconds) and pro agility (4.5 seconds). Before blowing up the event in Indianapolis, Strange impressed many across the league by spending almost all of the Senior Bowl at center despite not playing a single down at the position for Chattanooga.
“After the Saints reached for their pick at 49th overall, the Patriots topped them by taking Tyquan Thornton — the 192nd ranked player on the PFF big board. Everyone knows that he brings deep speed to the table after clocking a 4.28-second 40-yard at the NFL scouting combine. While those wheels are a huge plus, his play strength at the next level is cause for concern. Thornton isn’t much of an after-the-catch threat, as evidenced by averaging 3.9 yards after the catch and breaking just 11 tackles on 143 career receptions.”
PFF did like New England’s selection of Marcus Jones though and believes Bailey Zappe can be “an ideal backup for Mac Jones.”
“Marcus Jones has extremely concerning size at 5-foot-8, 177-pounds, and that pushed him down this far in the draft, but at No. 85 overall for New England, Jones provides immense value,” PFF wrote. “He is a fluid athlete who is, at a minimum, going to be a quality return specialist, as he was the highest-graded kick returner in the country last season. He’s not going to be playing outside corner as he has for Houston the last three years, but he can contribute in the slot due to his physical mindset and quickness, and maybe even play snaps on offense.”
Another league-worst grade for the Patriots.
Iyer gave New England the lowest mark mostly because he felt he reached on its the first two picks. Those weren’t the only picks he wasn’t a fan of, either.
“The Patriots started by reaching for Strange’s third-round value in the first round and being too speed-enamored with Thornton,” Iyer wrote. That came at the cost of no desperately needed top corner early. Marcus Jones was more their type of versatile defensive pick for Bill Belichick. There also was logic in taking Zappe to develop their next ideal backup QB. But taking two running backs is very odd, as well as taking more offensive linemen vs. addressing their massive need at linebacker at least once.”
Maske didn’t give the Patriots the lowest draft grade within the AFC East. That belongs to the Dolphins, who he gave a C-, though that was mostly because Miami made just four picks over the weekend, the lowest in the league.
Still, Maske wasn’t overly impressed by the Patriots’ weekend, either.
“Bill Belichick’s history of surprising picks devoted to obscure players continued with the first-round choice of G Cole Strange from Chattanooga,” Maske wrote. “It may have been a major reach, but Strange could help promote the run-first approach that kept the pressure off then-rookie QB Mac Jones last season. Belichick and the Patriots were more conventional with their selections of WR Tyquan Thornton in the second round and CB Marcus Jones in the third.”
Goss classified the Patriots’ draft as “weird,” mostly criticizing them for the positions of the players they selected.
“They took Chattanooga guard Cole Strange with the 29th overall pick in the first round, which was far higher than the late second round or third-round projections from most mock draft,” Goss wrote. “The Patriots also took a quarterback in Western Kentucky star Bailey Zappe in Round 4. He had a record-setting 2021 season and could be a nice long-term backup, but the pick does nothing to address serious weaknesses on the team’s defense.
“New England selected two running backs — South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. in Round 4 and South Carolina’s Kevin Harris in Round 6 — even though the team already had plenty of depth at the position.
“The Patriots did add much-needed speed. Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton was the fastest wide receiver in this class and the Pats took him in the second round (50th overall). Strong also was among the fastest running backs in the draft.
“The Patriots did not do enough to upgrade their defense, especially at linebacker. This class has the potential to be a pretty lackluster one for head coach Bill Belichick.”
Kapadia had the same issue with the Patriots’ first-round selection as everyone else: He went way higher than expected.
“Let’s be clear: Strange might end up being a Hall of Fame player,” Kapadia wrote. “The draft is hard, and we shouldn’t be certain about anything. Having said that, at the very least, it feels like the Patriots misread the market and could have moved down again for additional picks while still drafting Strange on Day 2.
“Instead, they used their first-round selection on a soon-to-be 24-year-old interior offensive lineman. I’m happy to look foolish with this grade a couple years from now, but I don’t get it.”
Kapadia also felt Thornton was selected too high, but he does think the Patriots addressed a need with the pick.
“The Patriots desperately needed juice/speed on offense, and Thornton gives them that,” Kapadia wrote. “The question is whether he can consistently beat press coverage and become a more well-rounded player. New England is known for having a shrunken draft board. Brugler had Thornton as his 176th prospect and thought he’d be a fifth-round pick. Maybe Thornton will work out, but this pick feels like a reach.”
New England’s third-round selection of Jones checked a lot of boxes though for Kapadia.
“Jones is undersized, but he’s a competitive corner who has ball skills and can cover. And Jones was a prolific returner at Houston,” Kapadia wrote. “His skill set should fit well in Bill Belichick’s defense and on New England’s special teams. I like this pick.”
Dator gave a best and worst pick for each team. Surprisingly, his worst pick for the Patriots wasn’t Strange. Instead, it was the team’s decision to draft Zappe in the fourth round. His favorite Patriots pick was them selecting Pierre Strong Jr. earlier in the fourth round.
“Nothing will make you doubt yourself like a Patriots draft,” Dator wrote. “It’s impossible to predict anything. There are times they make these weird picks like Cole Strange and they turn into All-Pros, then others when they flame out and we kinda ignore it because of Bill Belichick’s brilliance. That said, this was a fairly weak draft. I like the value of Strong, but I’m really confused taking a fourth-round quarterback to be a backup for Mac Jones.”
Orr is higher on the Patriots’ draft class than most. He wasn’t really critical on any of their picks, instead focusing on the speedy additions they added in Thornton and Strong.
“Bill Belichick selected the fastest receiver and running back in the class, signaling an offensive shift we’ve already seen is a year in the making,” Orr wrote. “The Patriots signed the speedy Nelson Agholor in free agency last year, as well. Thornton is an exciting prospect who ran a varied route tree at Baylor and took intermediate, quick-slant routes to the house. He should add easy yards after the catch, as well as be a threat to dismantle the tops of defenses. As surgical as New England’s free agency splurge was a year ago, it needed to dip back into the skill position waters this year. Strong doesn’t play like your typical speed-first back and uses the jets more as an afterburner once he breaks through the first level of defenders. He is also a typical Belichickian player—he threw four passes in games during his senior year.”
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