The first round of the 2022 NFL Draft was full of surprises with blockbuster trades headlining an eventful Thursday night, but leave it to Bill Belichick’s Patriots to register the strangest pick in Las Vegas.
New England selected University of Tennessee-Chattanooga offensive lineman Cole Strange with the 29th overall pick. Drafting little-known prospects out of smaller schools shouldn’t come as a surprise from Belichick-led teams, as the Patriots head coach often looks for the intangibles that fit his success-laden brand of football.
“We felt like that was a good — a guy that fits well — Cole fits well into our team and our system,” Belichick said of Strange, via team transcript. “Obviously think he’s a good player.”
Strange earned a starting role during his freshman year for the Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs. The 6-foot-5, 307-pounder gained plenty of experience leading up to his senior season, seeing time along every position on the interior O-line, including at center. Excelling in college as a run blocker, Strange ranked 74th in Daniel Jeremiah’s top 150 prospects list for the 2022 class.
“Yeah, again, it’s a composite of work with any player, so whatever opportunities you have to evaluate him, you evaluate him,” Belichick said. “Senior Bowl was part of it. That was definitely a move up competitively. They played a couple SEC teams and his workout was pretty good, as well. He’s a pretty athletic guy with good size, smart. He does a lot of things, has a lot of good tools to work with. He’s got a long way to go like every player does when he comes into the NFL, but look forward to working with him.”
The Patriots’ pick caught many off guard, including the Los Angeles Rams brass who watched from their rented-out draft mansion in the Hollywood Hills:
The Patriots traded back in the first round before selecting Strange, receiving extra third- and fourth-round picks from the Chiefs in this year’s draft in exchange for No. 21 overall.
“Yeah, well, if we had stayed at 21, then we would have obviously picked somebody,” said Belichick. “Probably a good chance it would have been him. I don’t know, there were several teams that we talked to prior to when we made the trade. There were some other conversations going on there, but ultimately that’s the one we chose.
“Glad Cole was there when we picked, and as I said, feel like we made the best decision that we could at 21.”
In the weeks leading up to the draft, New England traded guard Shaq Mason to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for a fifth-round pick (No. 170 overall). Belichick went ahead and addressed a need with the team’s first-round pick, but the selection of Strange wasn’t one specific to losing a guard who started for the Patriots the last seven seasons.
“No, not really. I don’t think we ever intentionally go into a draft trying to say, well, we have to get this position or that position,” Belichick said. “Sometimes it works out that way, which it did last year, and it did this year. But it wasn’t like there weren’t other positions and other players that we would have considered.
“The board was — players came off the board pretty much like we thought they would for the most part, and that’s — again, felt like we made the best option — we took the best option that we had, whether it was at 21 or 29, whatever it ended up being, 29. At those two points we felt like we made the best choice that we could.”
The selection of Strange was about as Belichickian as it gets, especially considering the Patriots received extra draft picks in the process. But who’s to question the six-time Super Bowl champion head coach at this point?