New England Patriots

Apr 28, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Chattanooga guard Cole Strange is announced as the twenty-ninth overall pick to the New England Patriots during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft at the NFL Draft Theater. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

  • In the first round of the NFL Draft Thursday night, the Patriots addressed a need on the offensive line by selecting Cole Strange out of Chattanooga. A Senior Bowl standout, Strange’s value steadily rose throughout the pre-draft process.

    What can Patriots fans expect from the team’s latest first-round pick? Here’s what some of the top NFL Draft experts have to say about Strange.

  • Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

    “Strange was an excellent defender for Farragut High School in Knoxville before signing with the Moccasins. As a redshirt freshman, he started six of 10 games played at left guard. Southern Conference coaches noticed his play in 11 games at left guard the following year, naming him second-team all-league. They repeated that honor for Strange in 2019 (11 starts at left guard, one at center) and 2020 (four starts in five games at left guard). SoCon coaches also voted him first-team all-conference for his play in 11 starts at left guard in 2021…Highly experienced interior lineman who does a nice job of staying on schedule. He shines over the first two phases of the block, which means he gains early positioning and gets into the sustain phase with proper hand usage and footwork. He will lose a tug-of-war battle as a pure man-to-man blocker, but wins with lateral quickness and an understanding of angles as a move blocker. A snappier pass punch is needed to prevent sub-package rushers with hand talent from bypassing him too easily. His frame and play strength are a little below average, but he has done some snapping in practice, so he could land as a future starting center for a zone-happy rush offense.”

    (Source)

  • Joe Marino, The Draft Network

    “Cole Strange started 44 games during his time at Chattanooga with 41 of those coming at left guard, two at left tackle, and one at center. He does offer positional flexibility but I like him best at guard where his run blocking and football IQ are best on display. Strange is an aggressive but controlled blocker that has a nasty demeanor with good power. He’s a good athlete that showcases the ability to work laterally and hit blocks in space. He’s a people-mover in the run game and his motor always runs hot. In pass protection, his punch is firm and he has a stout anchor. He has terrific awareness and understands body positioning. He showcased himself very well against Kentucky in 2021 which helps ease any concerns about the quality of competition he played against at Chattanooga and will have the opportunity to compete at the Senior Bowl. When it comes to concerns, Strange can be tardy to refit his hands and keep his feet engaged in pass protection. This leads to issues with opponents working to his edges and those edges being slippery. He will also turn 24 before the start of his rookie season. Overall, Strange can provide versatility as a reserve but has the traits needed to develop into a quality starter.”

    (Source)

  • Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network

    Positives: Versatile small-school offensive lineman whose draft stock has been on a straight shot north the past nine months. Starts with good knee bend, plays with leverage, and fires off the snap into blocks. Strong run blocker who is explosive and turns defenders from the line.

    Stays square, gets good fits on defenders, and seals opponents from the action. Fires to the second level, immediately engages linebackers, and gets a pad on opponents to knock them from their angles of attack. Used at both left tackle and left guard in college and also offers potential at center.

    Negatives: Lacks top footwork in space. Must be more consistent with his hand placement. Was not a dominant drive-blocking lineman on the small-school level.

    Analysis: Strange possesses terrific size and outstanding growth potential as well as positional versatility for the next level. After a solid senior season, he performed well during Senior Bowl practices and went on to have a terrific Combine workout. Strange needs to improve the details of his game. However, he has starting potential and could be working with the first team by the end of his rookie season.

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  • Dane Brugler, The Athletic

    Background: Devin Cole Strange, who is the middle child of three, grew up in the Knoxville area and attended Farragut High School. He was a four-year letterman and played linebacker as a freshman and sophomore. As a junior captain, Strange led the team with 100 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss at middle linebacker to earn All-District honors. He moved to defensive end as a senior and was named the 2015 Conference Defensive Player of the Year with 103 tackles, 18.0 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and five passes defended. Strange, who also played tight end as a senior, earned All-State honors and led Farragut to a 10-2 record in 2015. A two-star recruit out of high school, Strange was the No. 193 weakside defensive end in the 2016 recruiting class and the No. 94 recruit in the state of Tennessee. He was recruited by several FCS programs such as East Tennessee and Western Carolina and verbally committed to Chattanooga the summer before his senior season. Air Force entered the picture, and Strange flipped his commitment on signing day for the chance to play at the FBS level. However, during the summer after high school graduation, he had a change of heart and realized he wanted to be closer to his family and transferred to Chattanooga. Strange also made a position change and transitioned to the offensive line, initially at tackle before moving to left guard as a freshman because of team need. He took advantage of the extra year of NCAA eligibility from the pandemic and returned for his sixth season in 2021. Strange graduated with his degree in psychology (December 2020) and is pursuing his master’s degree in engineering management. He accepted his invitation to the 2022 Senior Bowl (eighth player in school history to receive an invite).

    STRENGTHS: Excellent quickness and pad level from snap to set-up … flexible lower body and does an excellent job repositioning his feet at contact to stand up defenders … has adequate length and active hands with a flexible coil … his punch placement is sharp and consistent … at his most confident in the run game …naturally aggressive in everything he does on the football field … embraces his rugged, mean blocking demeanor and prides himself on his quest to finish every play … has zero bad weight on his frame … his intelligence is clear on and off the field (3.71 GPA in college and was named Academic All-Conference all six years) … named a senior captain with outstanding football character — football matters to him … collected 44 total starts in three positions in college.

    WEAKNESSES: Has a lean-muscled frame and lacks ideal mass or thickness for the trenches … reliant on his fundamentals and can get bullied or jostled when his technique gets off schedule … is a challenge for him to anchor (or re-anchor) vs. power … his reset quickness lags a bit because of his tendency to lean into blocks … feet can get overexcited at times in his pass sets, and he must develop more disciplined footwork … can do a better job establishing and trusting his body angles didn’t have any functional experience on the offensive line before college … will be a 24-year-old NFL rookie … competed at the FCS level and didn’t face top-tier talent on a weekly basis (of his 44 career starts, three came vs. Power 5 opponents).

    SUMMARY: A five-year starter at Chattanooga, Strange lined up primarily at left guard in offensive coordinator Joe Pizzo’s zone-based spread scheme. A 250-pound defensive end out of high school, he had no offensive line experience when he enrolled, but he dedicated himself to the transition and plays like a throwback with his bare hands (no gloves), single-bar lineman facemask and nasty attitude. Strange, who is attempting to become the first Chattanooga player to be drafted in the top five rounds since Terrell Owens in 1996, commanded the NFL’s attention with his 2021 performance vs. Kentucky, and he again rose to the occasion at the Senior Bowl, showing his versatility at both center and guard. His hands and feet need to be on time or defenders will take advantage, which will drastically lower his margin for error vs. NFL power. Overall, Strange struggles to recover once defenders gain the upper hand, but he works hard to stay balanced with his quick feet, strong hands and competitive toughness. He will be ready to compete for an NFL starting job (guard or center) in year one.

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  • Brandon Thorne, Bleacher Report

    “Strange is a sixth-year player and five-year starter with 44 career starts primarily at left guard inside UT Chattanooga’s run-heavy scheme (just under 65 percent runs in 2021).

    Strange has a lean, angular build with solid arm length for the interior. He excels both as a zone and gap run-blocker with high-end athletic ability and good play strength to cut off the back-side shade, line up targets as a puller and come to balance in space to intersect targets at the second level off of combo blocks. He can also execute the same-foot, same-shoulder technique on vertical double-teams to create lift and movement off the ball.

    Strange has a stiff, firm strike on contact and a relentless leg drive to steer and finish defenders on their back and over piles once latched. Despite a small sample size as a pass protector, he has impressive flashes of being able to strike and widen rushers off his frame and at his fingertips with enough foot quickness to mirror them around the corner while being active and alert when uncovered.

    Strange will need to refine his footwork and discipline against shifty rushers who can set up their moves with stutters and hesitations to not open up his shoulders prematurely and create a soft inside edge that leaves him susceptible to getting beat across his face. He also tends to get high on angle-drive blocks as a run-blocker, causing him to overextend against slippery defenders who work to his edge. He’s often late to reposition his hands and feet to stay centered on blocks, which results in him getting grabby to stay attached.

    Overall, Strange has the frame, athletic ability, play strength and competitive toughness to be considered a high-level backup at multiple positions across the line, with starter potential over his first few seasons at guard. He will need refinement to handle himself in isolated situations as a pass protector in the NFL and to learn how to more efficiently win back leverage as a run-blocker, but he has shown that he can dominate FCS competition, and his power and tenacity translated against a major bump up in competition against Kentucky as well as at the Senior Bowl.”

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  • Natalie Miller, USA Today Draftwire

    Strengths: Strange played guard, center, and left tackle for the Mocs, excelling most at the first spot. During the 2021 season, Strange led an offensive line that averaged 205 rushing yards per game, and gave up just one sack and five pressures on 697 offensive plays. He played nine games at guard last year, the other two at left tackle, showing impressive versatility.

    His experience and intelligence shows up on the tape, where he routinely gains early positioning and gets into the sustain phase with proper hand usage and footwork, while recognizing his assignments and containing any leakage. He’s an aggressive blocker, but doesn’t let it get out of control.

    Strange has good contact balance while playing with good bend, hand usage, and leverage. His arm extension and power grab makes it extremely hard for defenders to break from his grip or move him from his spot, providing ultimate sustainability from the guard spot.

    He should excel in a zone scheme with plenty of movement on the line, as Strange has the ideal athleticism to move laterally and cork any defenders in front of him, leading the way for the ball carrier. His long arms allow him to connect early on the move and spin defenders out, moving on to the next level consistently. On zone runs, he provides a quick pop and drive that displaces defenders quickly and opens wide lanes. His play strength and lateral agility are NFL-ready.

    Weaknesses: When lined up at left tackle, Strange was beaten off the edge a few times as he leaned into speed rushers and opened himself up to crossers, getting torched immediately. He’ll need to be more secure in his technique off the edge, and rely on his arms to latch onto the rusher. This should be mitigated if he’s asked to solely line up at guard at the next level.

    He can get pushed back in base blocking against bigger opponents, as he is on the leaner side for his position. He may want to add some bulk, and improve his already impressive strength to add to his sustain blocks so he’s not pushed into the pocket.

    Projection: Strange has the experience and versatility to be an immediate starter in the NFL. He’ll ideally play guard, but can fill in at center or tackle if needed, which is always a bonus in a league lacking quality depth in the trenches. Teams should love his ability to boom quickly on move runs, and his long arm grasps on pass sets. Strange may need to add some play strength and refine his technique if he’s asked to play tackle, but these things can be ironed out by pro-level coaching. He should be off the board sooner than later on Day 2.

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  • Tyler Sullivan, CBS Sports

    Strengths: Disciplined eyes to identify stunt and good footwork to handle those stunts. Plays with good leverage. Has versatility playing guard and tackle. Fast out of his stance and does a great job sealing run lanes. Drives feet on contact in the run game. Does not panic. Ideal fit for a wide-zone blocking scheme.

    Weaknesses:

    Light for an interior offensive lineman and bigger bodies could give him problems. Pad level gets too high at times. Struggles locking onto defenders on the second level. Can do a better job of marrying his hands to his feet when engaged.

    (Source)