Could new Patriots offensive lineman Cole Strange make people forget his draft status?

Strange has the athletic upside to be a Pro Bowl guard for the Patriots, but he'll need some very good coaching to reach that potential.

Cole Strange Patriots
National Team offensive lineman Cole Strange of Tennessee-Chattanooga (69) and National Team offensive lineman Zion Johnson of Boston College (77) run through drills during practice for the Senior Bowl. AP Photo/Butch Dill
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Hate the Cole Strange pick or love it, the Patriots made it.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the first-round pick out of Tennessee-Chatanooga will be playing in Foxborough very soon and could well be New England’s starting left guard when the team’s season opens on September 11.

Interestingly, most of the talk following Strange’s surprising selection at No. 29 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft has been along the lines of “like the player, hate the pick.”

But given how much we’ve heard about how much people dislike taking Strange — or any offensive guard — in the first round when there were other, more important positions of need to be addressed, why not discuss why the Patriots were so enamored with him in the first place?


After all, he wouldn’t be the first successful Patriots offensive lineman to get picked much earlier than everyone thought he should. Now, no one talks about the fact that some saw Joe Thuney as an undrafted free agent and not worth the third-round pick New England invested in him back in 2016. Can Strange make people forget his draft pedigree, too (in a good way)?

Here’s a quick scouting report on Strange and what the Patriots will be getting with him — both the good and the not-so-good.

He’s an elite athlete with monster potential…

How about a somewhat warm, if not steaming hot, take: Cole Strange will be the most athletic New England Patriots offensive lineman the moment he sets foot on the field with the team.

But seriously, he has quite the raw tools to work with: Strange measures out as one of the 10 most athletic guards to come out of the NFL Draft in the last 35 years, judging by his relative athletic score (RAS).

The movement ability shows up on film. Strange looks smooth on pulls and can get up to the second level to make blocks on linebackers with ease. His brute strength (31 bench press reps at the NFL Combine) is something the Patriots value highly, and that’s clear on film, too.


His ability to draw extra power from his legs and core helps him stone bull-rushers in their tracks in the passing game and routinely drive defensive linemen off the ball in the run game, and he’ll likely get even stronger once he’s with an NFL facility.

Typically, when he got his hands on a defender in college, the play was over: Strange was going to win, and there was almost nothing you could do about it. You could say some of that was about his level of competition at Tennessee-Chatanooga, but the traits to be a very good NFL player are clearly there.

On top of that, he already has a keen sense of spotting stunts, loops and delayed blitzes. Very rarely does he get fooled by a schemed pass rush, maintaining his position and keeping his eyes up so he can switch another blocking assignment in a snap.

Strange projects as a guard for the Patriots and should compete to start right away on the left side, assuming Michael Onwenu takes over for Shaq Mason as right guard. But his athletic profile could allow him to theoretically play anywhere, including tackle (like Onwenu did as a rookie), as needed.

… but he needs polish, and the competition jump could be tough at first.

Obviously, no prospect is perfect, and Strange’s trouble spots will net heightened criticism given the angst about where he was taken in the draft.


One of the first things that caught detractors’ eyes was a comment from an AFC East coach as relayed by NFL Network’s Mike Giardi: “Can struggle with pass sets even against lower level of [competition].” That, of course, ballooned into narratives about whether Strange can pass block at the NFL level.

The short answer: of course he can. But that observation does illustrate how important coaching will be for Strange at the start of his NFL career.

Though he has plenty of raw strength and athletic ability, the inconsistency of his technique can get him into trouble.

There have been times, for example, where Strange will overcommit toward a three-technique on his outside shoulder only to get beaten with an inside move, which could’ve been avoided with a more linear set backward. Conversely, he at times struggles to keep rushers from getting around his outside shoulder because his footwork was too tentative, not because he physically can’t make the block.

Also, Strange struggles more in the screen game than you’d expect from someone who moves as well as he does. In particular, he has a tendency to lunge at blockers rather than break down and square them up as he would on the line of scrimmage, leading to some embarrassing whiffs.

The good thing about those problems? They’re things you can coach a player to do better, not issues he can’t bridge due to lack of talent.

Strange will certainly have to learn quickly to get up to speed against NFL competition.


He largely dominated his level of competition and had a good game against a stout Kentucky defensive line last year that included second-round pick Josh Paschall, who went to the Detriot Lions, and Marquan McCall, who signed an undrafted free-agent deal with Carolina. But McCall had arguably the only two reps of that Kentucky game in which Strange simply lost.

There’s also a viral clip out there of Ravens third-round pick Travis Jones abusing Strange at the Senior Bowl during one-on-one drills that had Patriots fans uneasy.

Everyone Strange faces from now on will be capable of rag-dolling him on a given snap. He’ll need to step up his own game accordingly.

The skinny:

As of right now, it’s easy to imagine Strange as one of the five best Patriots offensive linemen when the season starts this fall.

They’ll likely make him “earn it” in OTAs, minicamp and training camp by starting the likes of James Ferentz or Yasir Durant over him at first, but they wouldn’t have taken him that high if they didn’t think he could (and would) play immediately as a rookie.

In particular, Strange gives the Patriots a blend of what they’ve typically valued — a downhill road-grater in the run game who can adequately protect the quarterback — with athletic upside they typically don’t have (usually because they’re taking interior linemen much lower in the draft). He could end up being one of the cornerstones on which the offensive line is built in the coming years.

For now, though, he’s one of the team’s best bets to help the Patriots play as close to last year’s level on the offensive line out of the gate. If he can perform at the kind of level Ted Karras did in 2021, that would be a win for Year 1.


Hopefully, though, that’ll just be the floor of what Strange can do. If not, people aren’t going to let Bill Belichick live that pick down.


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