Where the Patriots went wrong with their 2022 NFL Draft class
It’s a general rule of thumb that you can’t truly judge an NFL Draft class for four years. That window adds context into the longevity of players, which players stick around for additional contracts, and show how a core can or can’t be built around them.
This philosophy can be seen in practice, with the Patriots’ recent draft history an example. From 2017 to 2019 the Patriots missed (to various extents) on premium draft selections at tackle (Antonio Garcia 85th overall in 2017, Isaiah Wynn 23rd overall in 2018, Yodny Cajuste 101st overall in 2019) cornerback (Duke Dawson 56th overall in 2018 and Joejuan Williams 45th overall in 2019) and wide receiver (N’Keal Harry 32nd overall in 2019). In the four to six years following those drafts the Patriots’ biggest needs for multiple offseasons have been…tackle, cornerback, and wide receiver.
For the Patriots’ 2022 draft class though, that judgement is on an express pace – especially on the offensive side of the ball. During this year’s round of roster cuts, five of the Patriots’ 10 2022 draft picks were either waived or traded away. That group includes fourth-round picks running back Pierre Strong (traded) and quarterback Bailey Zappe (waived).
Yes, some can and likely will be back on the practice squad and maybe make their way back on the active roster later in the year. But the fact the Patriots were willing to expose them to the waiver process in the first place shows they’re not fully committed.
Things aren’t much better at the top of the draft class. First-round pick guard Cole Strange had an up and down first season that saw him get benched twice, and while there was plenty to build on he missed almost all of training camp with a knee injury and will be playing catch-up as the season beings. Meanwhile, Tyquan Thornton failed to show signs of a Year 2 jump initially, then injured his shoulder and hasn’t practiced in three weeks. He’s a strong candidate to start the season on IR.
All of the players above were drafted in the top 150 picks. Those are players that are generally expected to make some sort of impact, even if it’s in a rotational role – especially at skill positions. Yet the opportunities afforded to those players were limited even right out of the gate. Now, the Patriots are quickly pulling the plug on the majority of them. Why? What happened? Here’s a theory.
It’s possible that the flaw in the Patriots’ 2022 draft wasn’t in their player evaluations, but self-evaluation. Hindsight is 20/20, but what were the Patriots thinking at the time of the draft when they made those picks?
Remember, Matt Patricia was taking over the offense at that time. This was after he had been Bill Belichick’s right-hand man in 2021, a role which reportedly included being “heavily involved” in the draft process. There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be as if not more involved as his role increased in 2022.
Now let’s go back to the spring of 2022. A month after that draft Patricia would begin installing a West Coast Shanahan-style gap system for the Patriots’ offense, a wide departure from the offense the Patriots had run previously. Through that lens, players like Strange, Thornton, and Strong made sense as selections having played in similar systems in college. While the rest of the roster was catching up to the new offensive system, the rookies would – in theory – be ahead of the curve. So at the time, it may have made sense to reach for players who were scheme fits, and be elevated by the system (something all teams do on occasion).
Of course, we now know that’s not what happened. Patricia’s offense failed to get off the ground, and was scrapped mid-season. Entering the 2023 season, the Patriots are now running another new offensive system, one more in line with what they did in the Josh McDaniels era than it is with the Shanahan tree.
With that change, the opportunities for the rookies decreased. Rather than trying them in the new system to see how they looked, the Patriots seemingly buried them. Strange was benched periodically late in the year, Thornton only had 13 catches from Week 10 on, and Strong didn’t play a single snap on offense from Mac Jones’ return in Week 8 (when the play-calling shifted) until injuries limited Rhamondre Stevenson in late December. Over those final five weeks, he had a total of 10 carries.
This offseason only further reinforces the fact that the Patriots appear to be ready to call that draft class a wash on the offensive side of the ball. While Strange is still projected to start, the Patriots drafted three interior offensive linemen in the top 150 picks this past year – working under the knowledge of their new and current offensive system. Meanwhile, it looks like Thornton has been passed on the depth chart by a pair of rookies. We’ll see how many of the five players who got released end up back on the practice squad, but that isn’t exactly a spot where a player’s role can grow.
The conditions exist for the Patriots to continue moving on from the class in the future too. As mentioned above they drafted significant competition for Strange this past spring, and Thornton has no guaranteed money in his contract beyond this 2023 season. Overall, pending a major turnaround, things aren’t heading in the right direction for the offensive players drafted by the Patriots in 2022.
To be clear, this isn’t an excuse for the Patriots’ poor selections in 2022 – although it may come across that way. It’s a deeper explanation of how/why they missed on so many picks. Essentially, Belichick’s decision to put Patricia in charge of the offense over a year ago is still carrying consequences for the team, even though Patricia is no longer a part of the organization.
For what it’s worth (*ducks*), the defensive side of that 2022 draft still holds some promise. Cornerbacks Marcus Jones (third-round pick) and Jack Jones (fourth round) showed they belong in the NFL last year and figure to be key contributors again in 2023 (assuming Jack Jones figures out his legal issues). Sixth-round pick defensive lineman Sam Roberts had an impressive second half of camp and looks ready to make a Year 2 jump as a run game player.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.