New England Patriots

Feb 3, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; A detailed view of the East-West Shrine Bowl logo at midfield at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As he continues to settle into his new role as New England’s director of player personnel, Matt Groh impact on personnel decisions looks to be growing after a particular set of draft picks.

As recently discussed in a new column from Mike Reiss of ESPN, the Patriots selected four players who participated in the Shrine Bowl, an event which Groh attended as a scout.

Tyquan Thornton, Jack Jones, Pierre Strong Jr. and Sam Roberts all made their way to New England after participating in the Shrine Bowl, a showcase primarily for FBS players. The Patriots were tied with the Titans for the most players selected from the game. They also signed two UDFAs, D’Eriq King and LaBryan Ray, who took part i n the game.

“I think for executives like Matt, who were there and took advantage, they probably got a lot of good character and background feedback, for sure,” Eric Galko, the Shrine Bowl’s director of player personnel told Reiss. “He was one of the longest-staying executives, there for at least four days,” he said.

Meet the New England Patriots' 2022 draft class

  • Here’s the full list of the Patriots’ 2022 draft picks, what you need to know about each of them, and how they’ll fit in as rookies and beyond.

    1st Round, 29th Overall: Cole Strange, G/C, UT-Chattanooga

    Cole Strange prior to a play against Mercer. (Credit: GoMocs.com)

    Cole Strange prior to a play against Mercer. (Credit: GoMocs.com)

    Initially, the name Strange lived up to this selection for the Patriots. Strange was perhaps the best interior offensive line prospect available at the time of the 29th pick, but was widely projected to actually be picked in rounds 3-4. Subsequent reports indicated that Strange was not going to make it out of the second round. So Belichick decided to target his guy when he knew he could get him.

    Strange as a draft selection immediately drew comparisons to the last guard the Patriots took in the first round, Logan Mankins in 2005. He’ll have to play at a Mankins level, meaning multiple All-Pro selections, in order to return true first-round value at his position.

    Offensive line is arguably Belichick’s best position when it comes to drafting and developing, so Strange is likely to be at least a solid long-term starter at guard. But we’ll be left wondering if Belichick could’ve found a solid starting guard in the middle rounds, like he did in the recent past with Joe Thuney (2016 third-round pick) and Shaq Mason (2015 fourth-round pick).

    That said, Belichick and the Patriots absolutely had to hit on this pick. They had to land someone who can start immediately and be a long-term answer at a position of need, whether he’s an All-Pro or simply solid and dependable. So Strange would qualify as one of the safest picks possible in that regard. At the very least, Strange should step in and start at one of the guard spots right away, and provide stability on a roster that’s needed it in recent years.

  • 2nd Round, 50th Overall: Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor

    Oct 9, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (9) in action during the game between the Baylor Bears and the West Virginia Mountaineers at McLane Stadium. Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 9, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (9) in action during the game between the Baylor Bears and the West Virginia Mountaineers at McLane Stadium. Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Strange may be talked about a lot after this draft, but Thornton is easily the Patriots pick that should come with the most intrigue and scrutiny. The Patriots traded up from 54 to 50 in a trade with the Chiefs to select Thornton, who led all receivers at the Combine with a blazing 4.28 time in the 40-yard dash.

    The reason Thornton will be scrutinized is not simply that he’s a wide receiver drafted by a team that’s historically struggled to consistently draft and develop at the position. It’s that three other receivers were selected soon after him: the Steelers drafted George Pickens out of Georgia at 52, the Colts took Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce at 53, and the Chiefs used the pick they got from the Patriots to take Skyy Moore out of Western Michigan.

    All four of those picks will be closely compared to each other in the coming years, fair or not. And the Patriots were the ones who traded up to take one. Reports indicate that they had to do it because at least one other team had Thornton atop their board. If it was the Steelers, who are a veritable receiver factory, that’s a good sign for the Patriots.

    Thornton brings two important qualities to the Patriots’ receiver room: speed and separation ability. He entered the draft with concerns about his wiry frame (6-foot-2, 181 pounds) and limited route-running. But as an outside receiver, he immediately becomes the fastest on the team, and the one with by far the most upside.

  • 3rd Round, 85th Overall: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston

    Sep 25, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars cornerback Marcus Jones (8) returns a punt for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 25, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars cornerback Marcus Jones (8) returns a punt for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots add more speed, this time to the defense and special teams. Jones will have a chance to make his presence felt as a rookie in the return game, with the Pats needing to replace Gunner Olszewski.

    The winner of the 2021 Paul Hornung award as the nation’s most versatile player, Jones excelled as both a cornerback and returner for the Cougars. He returned two touchdowns each on kicks and punts, and also logged five interceptions, 13 pass breakups, and a forced fumble on defense.

    At 5-foot-8, Jones projects as a slot cornerback at the NFL level. On the Patriots, he should immediately be a top candidate to return kicks and punts. He also has the potential to be a long-term replacement for starting slot cornerback Jonathan Jones, whose 2021 season was cut short due to a shoulder injury and who is entering the final year of his contract.

  • 4th Round, 121st Overall: Jack Jones, CB, Arizona State

    Nov 27, 2021; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils defensive back Jack Jones (0) against the Arizona Wildcats at Sun Devil Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 27, 2021; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils defensive back Jack Jones (0) against the Arizona Wildcats at Sun Devil Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Belichick addresses the cornerback position again, but unlike Marcus Jones, Jack Jones projects to cover on the outside.

    Jones is described as a ball-hawking cornerback with playmaking instincts. His relative lack of size and play strength (5-foot-11, 171 pounds) projected him as a day-3 pick, despite his ball skills and history of college production when on the field. Lance Zierlein said of Jones at NFL.com: “His lack of size/strength should make technique a top priority, as his talent for finding the football won’t matter as much if he can’t get on the field.”

    Jones has overcome past legal trouble and other disciplinary issues along his path to the pros. In 2018, after a productive sophomore season at USC, he was dismissed from the school after being deemed academically ineligible. That summer, he was arrested and later pled guilty to misdemeanor burglary charges for his involvement in a break-in at a Panda Express restaurant. He spent a year at Moorpark, a junior college in California, without playing football, then made it to Arizona State in 2019. The Sun Devils suspended Jones for violating team rules after an altercation with a teammate in 2020, limiting him to just one game. He came back for his senior year in 2021 and played 11 games with three interceptions, six pass breakups, and three forced fumbles.

    Jones will have a chance to play a lot at outside cornerback sooner rather than later, due to the Patriots’ depth and talent concerns at the position. But he’ll certainly have to stay out of trouble, both inside and outside team facilities. His legal problems are now four years in the rearview mirror, so there’s reason for optimism. If the Patriots can tap into Jones’ talent and get the most out of him, they could have another Malcolm Butler/J.C. Jackson type on their hands.

  • 4th Round, 127th Overall: Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State

    Pierre Strong Jr. #20 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits celebrates during the game against the Minnesota Gophers on August 29, 2018 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Gophers defeated the Jackrabbits 28-21. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

    Pierre Strong Jr. #20 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits celebrates during the game against the Minnesota Gophers on August 29, 2018 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Gophers defeated the Jackrabbits 28-21. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

    Strong was the fastest running back in the class, with a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash, which was tied for first at the position. So with this selection, the Patriots drafted the fastest player at both receiver and running back, along with a speedy cornerback/returner in Marcus Jones.

    The FCS rushing leader with 1,668 rushing yards as a senior, Strong earned a consensus All-America selection with his elite production in the conference. He also earned all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors for three straight years. Strong also caught 22 passes for 150 yards in 15 games in his final year and was a team captain in his last two seasons.

    New England typically likes to “redshirt” rookie running backs, giving them limited playing time, if any at all. James White, Damien Harris, and J.J. Taylor barely played as rookies, while Rhamondre Stevenson was in and out of the lineup and played mainly out of necessity amid injuries at the position. So despite Strong’s ability to add legit speed to the roster, it would be surprising if we saw much of him in 2022.

    That said, Strong projects as a potential long-term answer on the ground. He has the floor of a solid change-of-pace back with the upside of a long-term lead back, but probably needs time to develop if he’s going to be a long-term replacement for James White on passing downs.

  • 4th Round, 137th Overall: Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky

    Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe scrambles during the first quarter against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. (Nick King/Lansing State Journal/USA TODAY Network)

    Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe scrambles during the first quarter against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe scrambles during the first quarter against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. (Nick King/Lansing State Journal/USA TODAY Network)

    This pick should certainly put Jarrett Stidham on the hot seat, if not Brian Hoyer as well. Zappe (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) lacks the pure arm talent and physical traits to be a long-term starter at the NFL level, but he’s a confident, aggressive passer who could make plays in a pinch if he ever has to play. Think Case Keenum.

    If Mac Jones doesn’t work out long-term, Patriots fans can keep their fingers crossed that Zappe turns out to be a diamond in the rough, and actually plays more like Drew Brees than your standard journeyman gunslinger. He certainly has the right mentality for the position. You need a high level of confidence to even have a chance. It’s a matter of how much Zappe’s unimpressive athletic qualities hold him back.

  • 6th Round, 183rd overall: Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina

    South Carolina Gamecocks running back Kevin Harris (20) avoids a tackle from North Carolina Tar Heels defensive back Tony Grimes (20)during the DukeÕs Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Thursday, December 30, 2021. Jg Mayobowl 123021 046

    South Carolina Gamecocks running back Kevin Harris (20) avoids a tackle from North Carolina Tar Heels defensive back Tony Grimes (20)during the Duke’s Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Thursday, December 30, 2021. (Syndication: The Greenville News)

    Described in scouting reports as generally a bruising power back, Harris averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore with the Gamecocks in 2020. He underwent back surgery in the summer of 2021, then returned to play 12 games in his junior year with 4.3 yards per carry and four TDs.

    Considering the Patriots’ penchant for “redshirting” rookie running backs, and that they already have Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson on the depth chart, it’s likely the only way we see Kevin in 2022 is if the Pats have significant injury problems. But this could be an indication that the pressure’s on Damien Harris, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal.

    The injury history is a concern, as back problems always should be. But that obviously didn’t stop Harris from playing as a junior. The hope is that he can keep the back issues in the past and eventually contribute in the ground game.

  • 6th Round, 200th overall: Sam Roberts, DL, Northwest Missouri State

    Defensive tackle Sam Roberts playing for the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats. (Photo courtesy Northwest Missouri State University Athletics)

    Defensive tackle Sam Roberts playing for the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats. (Photo courtesy Northwest Missouri State University Athletics)

    Never heard of Roberts’ school? Don’t be surprised. Roberts won the 2021 Cliff Harris Award as the nation’s best small-college defensive player.

    The Patriots are betting on Roberts as a hidden gem from a lesser-known Division-II college program. Roberts logged 6.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss as a senior at Northwest Missouri State. He earned first team All-America honors in the D2CCA and AFCA.

    At 6-foot-5 and 293 pounds, Roberts has the frame to potentially play a 5-technique role for the Patriots (defensive end in a 3-4 alignment). That’s a role they’ve struggled to fill in recent years. But as a D-2 player and sixth-rounder, Roberts will certainly qualify as someone Belichick will say “has a long way to go.”

  • 6th Round, 210th overall: Chasen Hines, G/C, LSU

    Mar 4, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Louisiana State offensive lineman Chasen Hines (OL20) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 4, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Louisiana State offensive lineman Chasen Hines (OL20) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots once again addressed their interior offensive line in the sixth round with Hines, a four-year letterwinner at LSU. He has the potential to play both guard and center at the NFL level. Contrasted with first-round pick Cole Strange, Hines has a better chance to play center in the long-term. At NFL.com, Lance Zierlein describes Hines as a “burly, strong center/guard prospect whose strengths lend themselves to a fit with a power-based rushing attack.”

    Considering Hines’ pedigree, Belichick’s history of coaching up the position, the Patriots’ needs, and the potential with injuries at tackle, it’s possible we see Hines on the field in 2022. If Isaiah Wynn or Trent Brown have to miss time, Mike Onwenu would be a candidate to slide from guard to tackle, creating an opening.

    This is where most people would have preferred the Patriots to wait to pick a guard, rather than in the first round. But either way, the Patriots certainly addressed that immediate need and should be OK at that spot going forward.

  • 7th Round, 245th overall: Andrew Stueber, OT, Michigan

    Andrew Stueber #71 of the Michigan Wolverines in action in the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium on November 07, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

    Andrew Stueber #71 of the Michigan Wolverines in action in the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium on November 07, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

    With this selection, the Patriots address a long-term need at tackle. They also extend their streak of selecting at least one player from Michigan to four years in a row, following Chase Winovich in 2019, Josh Uche and Mike Onwenu in 2020, and Cameron McGrone in 2021.

    Stueber earned All-Big-10 honors and was named a second team All-American by the AFCA in 2021. A three-year letterman at Michigan, Stueber started all 14 games at right tackle for the Wolverines, and his teammates named him an alternate captain.

    Stueber certainly has the height that the Patriots have liked at tackle at 6-foot-7. Interestingly enough, his NFL.com draft profile says he “might have teams considering him as both a guard and a tackle.” He started 20 games at right tackle and two at right guard at Michigan.

NEXT: Nelson Agholor sees opportunity with additions of DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton