Media’s attempt to defend Patriots’ 2022 draft shifts into high gear

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 03: Tyquan Thornton #WO32 of Baylor runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 03, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 03: Tyquan Thornton #WO32 of Baylor runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 03, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Their 2022 NFL draft is in the rearview mirror, but with rookie camp now concluded, the New England Patriots‘ draft defense team is shifting into high gear. And it’s a defense team that would make Perry Mason proud (old-time TV lawyer reference).

The Patriots were soundly and roundly criticized not necessarily for who they chose with their top two picks, but more so when they chose them. That’s a key difference that can’t be overstated. They took University of Tennessee-Chattanooga guard (that position, guard, is of itself questionable) Cole Strange in the first round with the 29th pick. That might have been a surprise, even to Strange. They got the unit right, but not the position; offensive tackle would have been preferable.

In the second round with the 49th overall pick (for which they traded up), they selected Baylor wideout Tyquan Thornton. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some damage control that’s being attempted by Patriots defenders.

Patriots’ Draft reaches cost the team plenty in opportunity costs

Slight reaches in the NFL draft are not a real issue. It’s when you reach way out there that becomes very problematic. They reached for both of their first two picks and it cost them. And let’s make one thing perfectly clear: it cost them even IF the two players excel. How’s that?

First, let’s discuss Strange. By all accounts, he’s an athletic type and a pretty good prospect, a  guard/center who was projected by most to maybe be a second-round pick or third-rounder or lower.

His pick was a surprise, to say the least – in the first round. One thing that garnered attention was that Strange got his proverbial clock cleaned by rookie defensive tackle and Baltimore Ravens’ third-round pick Travis Jones. He couldn’t handle the big tackle, to say the least.

In actuality, he got steamrolled by him. Talk about bad optics. OUCH!

But that’s been “handled” in the media as not very important. Got it. Suuuuuuuure.

So why will this actually matter? Strange at guard is going to have to block big, strong interior linemen like Jones on every play. If Strange gets steamrolled by Jones, how’s he going to deal with seasoned NFL defensive tackles? Hopefully, it will turn out better at the next level. We’ll see.

Patriots’ selection of Thornton in the second round was another reach

The Patriots wanted to get fast in the draft. They did with Tyquan Thornton, who ran a blistering combine 40-yard dash of 4.28 seconds. That’s fast. But at that spot in the draft, three other very good receivers — two of whom at least were much more highly rated than he was — were on the board. Those two were George Pickens of Georgia and Skyy Moore of Central Michigan.

But the Patriots draft defense team was “Johnny on the spot” with their counter to any question whatsoever of the usually-pathetic Patriots’ personnel operation that once again reached on a consensus-rated fourth-round pick (or so) in Thornton.

So he’s fast, fine. But he’s also a paltry 181 pounds at over 6-2 tall. That’s rail-thin. It doesn’t always matter, but in the NFL where most cornerbacks are tough and strong, it could be critically important. Why take that risk and trade up and give away draft capital to do so? There were much more sound receivers available who weren’t reaches at all and were eminently defensible picks, while Thornton really wasn’t.

And as for speed, in 2003 the Patriots drafted a burner of a wide receiver, Bethel Johnson, in the second round. He could fly. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get open or catch a pass. He had a total of 39 receptions in his career. He is one in a long line of Patriots’ second-round wide receiver busts. Fast is wonderful, but fast, skilled, and more talented is better.

Thornton may be a “steal”, but maybe not. The hope here is that he will be. The real issue here, though, is should you go for a “steal” in the second round of the draft? The emphatic response here is, “No way!” You don’t, you go consensus. You go sound. You stay on course. “On course” would be what they pulled off in 2021’s highly successful draft.

This year, they veered. The New England Patriots reverted to form in 2022 and went for choices that were looked upon by most learned observers as significant — not incremental, but significant — reaches. The result always is, in these cases, that:

1. You pass up likely better players who were available at that spot, and

2. You deny yourself the opportunity to grab your reaches later, without shifting around.

And that’s the opportunity cost noted earlier.  That’s what you leave on the table and that’s why it’s such a terrible draft strategy. And, by the way, it’s still a poor strategy even if both Strange and Thornton turn out to be excellent players.

The fact of the matter is, it’s always better to have a shot at three or four good players drafted appropriately, e.g. where they are actually rated, than risk the top of your draft on fewer potentially good players. As they say in Foxborough, it is what it is, and that’s just a crapshoot. It’s better to have more throws of the dice than fewer.