It was a strange opening round for the New England Patriots at the 2022 NFL Draft. As has grown customary under Bill Belichick, the team decided to trade down from their original spot at No. 21 overall to collect a couple more draft assets from the Kansas City Chiefs along with the 29th overall selection. With that pick, New England turned their attention to the interior of the offensive line and plucked guard Cole Strange from UT-Chattanooga.
While this selection does fill a need along the interior to protect last year's first-rounder in Mac Jones, it was a rather surprising pick for the Patriots because the consensus had Strange as a Day Two prospect who was pegged to come off the board in the late second or early third round. Nevertheless, he is the latest player tapped by Belichick to join him in Foxborough, so let's dive a bit more into the newest Patriot.
Highest player selected in UT-Chattanooga history
On top of this pick being a surprise in the first round, it also made some school history for Chattanooga. Strange is now the highest-drafted player ever selected in the program's history. Prior to this pick, Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens had this feather in his cap with the San Francisco 49ers taking him in the third round (No. 89 overall) in the 1996 NFL Draft. This also isn't the first time the Patriots have taken a player from this program. Back in '96, the team took running back Marrio Grier in the sixth round. The Boston Patriots (AFL) also took a handful of players from Chattanooga.
Long collegiate career
Strange, who started his collegiate career at Air Force, played six seasons in college with his final year of eligibility granted to him due to the pandemic. Because of that, he's a bit of an older prospect with him slated to turn 24 in late July. For reference, Damien Harris -- who is entering his fourth season with the Patriots in 2022 -- will be 25 at the start of the regular season.
That said, Strange did make the most of his time in Chattanooga. He was a two-time SoCon Jacobs Blocking Award winner, an honor given to a conference's best blocker. Strange allowed just one sack over the last four seasons, according to PFF.
Where will he play?
Strange's primary position at Chattanooga was at left guard, although he did have brief showings at left tackle and center. So long as he can get up to speed, he could be penciled in to start at left guard for New England with Isaiah Wynn remaining at left tackle, David Andrews at center, Michael Onwenu starting at right guard, and Trent Brown back at right tackle.
Rating: 84.31 (Long-term starter)
Pro Comparison: Mark Glowinski
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.
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.
- 2021: AP FCS All-America third team
- 44 career starts over five seasons