Heading into the first round of Thursday night’s draft most Patriots fans felt the Patriots were in prime position to move down. That’s exactly what they wound up doing, moving from 21 to 29 thanks to a trade with Kansas City that netted them picks in the third (94) and fourth (121) rounds.
But the manner in which the trade came about surprised some people, mainly due to the fact that a couple of players were unexpectedly available at the time of the deal.
Sitting at No. 21, the Patriots figured to be in the market for a number of positions. Among those included cornerback, linebacker and an edge player. While most thought the picking at those positions would be slim once the Patriots were on the clock, that turned out to be false.
Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie, Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson and linebackers Devin Lloyd of Utah and Quay Walker of Georgia were all available. Yet, Bill Belichick still opted to make the move and traded down to 29, where he chose to guard Cole Strange out of Chattanooga.
In a vacuum the deal makes plenty of sense as the Patriots added picks while sliding down just eight spots. Belichick now has 11 total picks in a draft many consider to be rife with mid-round prospects while not necessarily possessing high-end talent.
So, with three picks on Friday (Nos. 54, 85, 94) there are still plenty of opportunities for the Patriots to acquire talent. But it’s hard to come away from Thursday night not feeling like the Patriots missed an opportunity. McDuffie appeared in the middle of many mock drafts and would have provided some depth at a position of great need for New England. Johnson, Walker and Lloyd are playmakers who would have added some speed to a defense badly in need of it.
Instead, Belichick passed on those players – as well as a few others – and took a guard many experts had pegged as a late-Day 2, possible Day 3 option. Strange is an athletic interior lineman with good size at 6-6, 301 pounds with agile feet and performed well at the Senior Bowl. And in fairness he projects to fill an immediate need at guard where the Patriots lost both starters from 2021, Ted Karras and Shaq Mason.
But by most accounts he could have just as easily filled that hole as a second- or third-round pick. The top two guards on most boards were Kenyon Green from Texas A&M and Zion Johnson from Boston College. They went 15th to Houston and 17th to the Chargers, respectively. It’s possible Belichick would have taken one of them had they been available at 21, and perhaps that provided the impetus for the trade down.
Again, the move itself was sound but the selection was a head-scratcher. And passing up on quality players to select a player most had available much later added to the odd nature of the night.
Belichick has been in this position before and generally has been proven correct. But this time his team has more needs than normal, and now there will be some players to watch and evaluate closely for those keeping score. If a player like McDuffie emerges as a quality performer at a position the Patriots are lacking, and the defense continues to struggle, there will rightly be plenty of second-guessing to go around.