The New England Patriots entered the 2022 NFL Draft looking to carry the momentum from what was a productive draft a season ago, which was headlined by the addition of quarterback Mac Jones. Now that they have their franchise signal-caller under the tent, this draft's main goal was to find young talent that continues to build around Jones so that New England can take the next step and play deep into the playoffs.
As the '22 draft unfolded, it was your classic Belichick draft -- he traded down in the first round, took an interior offensive lineman out of Chattanooga at No. 29 overall, and made sure he came away with the nation's top kick returner. Oh, and he also took a quarterback out of Western Kentucky in the fourth.
So, does Belichick zigging while most of the league thought he may zag and address other areas of need on the roster mean the Patriots are back? We'll find out once these prospects actually hit the field, but it was certainly an interesting class that is making its way to Foxborough.
Below, you'll find the Patriots' 2022 draft class, along with a couple of moves they didn't make over the course of the weekend and one addition that they definitely got right.
Patriots 2022 draft class
South Dakota State
NW Missouri State University
|7 (245)||Andrew Stueber||OT||Michigan|
Zero linebackers taken
One of the more surprising moves that the Patriots didn't make over the course of the draft was that they selected zero linebackers. While corner was a high-profile need on defense, linebacker is pretty thin as well with Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins still unsigned. The team did trade for former Browns linebacker Mack Wilson this offseason and re-signed Ja'Whaun Bentley, but there is a lot of inexperience beyond that with Anfernee Jennings and Cameron McGrone making up the depth chart. That's why a lot of the mock drafts heading into the first round pegged New England as a possible landing spot for the likes of Quay Walker or Devin Lloyd. Both of those players were still on the board when the Patriots were initially on the clock at No. 21 overall before trading back. By the time their new pick got back around at 29, Lloyd and Walker were both selected and they opted to address the O-line with Cole Strange.
While the Patriots may not have wanted to take a linebacker at 21, it was a bit eyebrow-raising that they didn't take a single player at that position over the three days. They may think highly of Jennings (third round, 2020) and McGrone (fifth round, 2021) enough that they don't see this as big of a need. That said, it was interesting to see them even stray away from Georiga's Nakobe Dean as his sunken draft stock due to a rumored injury that made the once first-round prospect into a third-round pick. That seemed like the type of value a Belichick front office would typically pounce on.
No clear J.C. Jackson replacement
The biggest hit New England's roster took this offseason was the departure of All-Pro corner J.C. Jackson in free agency. While this isn't the first time the Patriots have lost their No. 1 corner, they've historically had someone in-house to ascend to that role. Most recently, it was Jackson who became the team's top corner following Stephon Gilmore's exit and Gilmore was the in-house replacement when the team moved on from Malcolm Butler following the 2017 season. Now, there isn't that clear figure in the secondary that can realistically step up into that role, which is why many believed the Patriots would use their top pick to address that glaring need.
Of course, it was unrealistic to expect the likes of Derek Stingley or Ahmad Garnder -- two corners that went inside the top five -- to be on the board when New England was on the clock at No. 21, but there were options for them at that spot, including Washington's Trent McDuffie or Kaiir Elam out of Florida. Instead, they traded back with Kansas City, who decided to pluck McDuffie to help their defense.
The Patriots did end up taking two corners in this draft in Marcus Jones (third round) and Jack Jones (fourth round), but it seems unrealistic to expect them to come in out of the gate as a starter compared to what a first-rounder can do on Day 1. Marcus Jones will likely make more of an impact in the return game from the jump, while Jack Jones works to find his spot in the rotation. It's certainly possible that one or both of these players becomes that No. 1 corner at some point, but it would seem unlikely that it happens in 2022, which means there's still a big hole in this secondary.
Injecting speed into the offense
While you can question how the Patriots got there, there's no denying that there was a big need for this offense to get faster. The front office seemed to recognize that and were able to bring in the fastest wide receiver and running back in this class in Tyquan Thornton and Pierre Strong. The Patriots traded up in the second round to land Thornton, who turned in a 4.28 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, which was not only the fastest among all receivers but the fourth-fastest by a wideout dating back to 2006. Some NFL Draft prognosticators have dubbed this a reach as Thornton was projected to possibly be a third-round pick, but there's no denying that he brings a much-needed trait to this offense.
The same can be said for Strong, who ran a 4.37 40 at the combine. Although, it may be a while before he makes an impact in what is a crowded Patriots backfield currently headlined by Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and James White.