The New England Patriots had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad draft. Ask both national and local analysts alike and they will tell you this based on the 10 players the team selected between the first and seventh rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Whether it was the Boston Herald using the word “confounding” to describe the team’s haul, ESPN questioning the value the Patriots received out of their early-round picks, or the Boston Globe even going so far as to refer to New England as a “ laughingstock,” New England’s draft was not particularly well-received by media and fans alike.
The Patriots finishing dead last in a composite ranking of 18 grades handed out by draft experts did not come as a surprise. The writing was already on the well, when the Patriots selected a player out of left field in the first round.
But let’s back up a little. What did Bill Belichick and company do to trigger such a reaction? Well, they very much went against the grain. again. And again.
As noted above, it all started in the first round on Thursday night. Following a trade-down with Kansas City to move from No. 21 to no. 29, the Patriots selected Chattanooga offensive lineman Cole Strange. One of the most athletic players in the entire draft and a projected plug-and-play starter at left guard, Strange had one problem in the eye of those analyzing the pick from the outside: he was ranked as a third-round pick on various big board.
Big school pedigree? Name recognition? The Patriots’ newest first-round pick had neither to a significant degree, and compared with his rankings — a consensus board created by Arif Hasan at The Athletic had Strange as just the 76th best prospect in the class — he was quickly classified as a “ reach.”
Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay being filmed laughing after the selection was announced did not help matters either, even though he later clarified his reaction. It was already too late, though: the tone for what was to follow was set.
While some picks such as Houston cornerback Marcus Jones in the third round were evaluated in a mostly positive light, others were questioned just like or even more than the Strange selection. Tyquan Thornton at No. 50? Two running backs? Bailey Zappe in Round 4 with Mac Jones already the undisputed starting quarterback? For as positive as last year’s draft was received, this one was questioned nearly universally.
At the heart of the criticism stands those big boards mentioned above. They are the basis for graphics like the following, shared by Pro Football Focus’ Kevin Cole:
Based on this evaluation, the Patriots received the least value among all teams in the draft relative to the capital invested. Compare it to other teams such as the Baltimore Ravens or the New York Jets, and you have a team coming up short in its quest to add talent to a roster in serious need of it at multiple positions.
The following table shared by Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis makes this even more obvious:
Here we can see the Patriots overextending both in the first and second rounds. Graphics like these shared by reputable sources can quickly shape the perception of a draft class, and in New England’s case make it an unpopular one before even one snap of football has been played by the men selected.
Perception is not reality, however.
For starters, Bill Belichick does not care about what the media or fans think about his draft success or how prospects are evaluated. Neither does the rest of the NFL as both the aforementioned Sean McVay and San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan explained over the weekend.
From Friday night: Sounds like 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan viewed Chattanooga OL Cole Strange as first-round caliber, as he cites Strange’s situation as an example of how media-based perceptions don’t always match a team’s reality. pic.twitter.com/tr3qlyd5Gg
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) May 1, 2022
“The hardest thing for us is when you ask a question like, ‘Where do you think they’re going? Do you think he over-went?’” Shanahan said. “Everyone understands everyone ranks guys and there’s a perception of when everyone’s going to go, but the reality of when someone’s going to go is when someone picks them. You don’t know that when it happens. You see it all over when people freak out, but a lot of these guys are really good players.
“We saw that with New England in the first round. That [didn’t] surprise me at all, or us. It surprised you based on the perception because everyone in the world was saying there was no way, but everyone who watched that tape was like, ‘Well, he looks like a first-rounder, who’s going to pull the trigger?’”
The reality is that fans and media members alike only have a limited set of information to work with. Scheme fits, medical data or interview performance are only three of the areas not incorporated into rankings like the ones referenced above, simply because they are not available to those outside the league.
Make no mistake about it, the draft community in the media is doing a good job with what is available. It also is shooting into the dark compared to what the NFL’s 32 teams know.
That does not mean the clubs are infallible — they very much are not — but the process behind decisions is a far more complex one than just ranking players based on the available film. That process led to Cole Strange being viewed much more favorably in league circles than outside of them, but it does not mean the process per se is a wrong one.
It just means that the Patriots’ draft board will look different from the 49ers’ which in turn will look different than that of the other 30 clubs. And those will look massively different form what the media and fan scouting community comes up with, simply because the foundation upon which they are built is a different one.
The portrayal of a draft class, especially this early in the process, is therefore one based on a shred of information compared to what the NFL is working with.
So, does that mean the Patriots did not have the worst draft in football? Can all of New England rest easy now? Well, not necessarily. The answers, as always, will come on the field and not through spreadsheets or YouTube cut-ups of college games.
Ball, as they say, don’t lie.