The 2022 NFL Draft has come to an end and with it, the New England Patriots have 10 new players that appear to have filled some major holes but also left some interesting questions. Just prior to the draft, we ran down some burning questions facing the team and now, for the most part, we now have some answers that might not fully come to light until training camp gets underway this summer.
The full list of draft picks:
Here are the 10 key takeaways as the team prepares to get on the field later this month at OTAs, followed by mandatory minicamp in June.
1. Speed arrives
Speed was a buzzword prior to the draft and it's clear the team has added some dynamic and explosive athletes across the roster, including the blazing Tyquan Thornton at wide receiver, electric returner and defensive back Marcus Jones, the straightaway speed at running back of Pierre Strong and the high-end athleticism of Cole Strange. All four of those players figure to make some kind of immediate impact and should provide a boost in all three phases. While the rookies can't do it all by themselves, the 2022 Patriots appear to already be a more athletic and fast team.
"You look at a couple of the guys we added yesterday, a couple of the guys we added today, there's some pretty fast times," said Matt Groh after the conclusion of the draft. "At certain positions, there's only so many ways to handle speed, and these guys wake up every morning and they're fast."
2. Immediate holes filled
There were plenty of needs across the depth chart and it appears the Patriots filled a couple of the most glaring ones with the selections of Strange and Marcus Jones, while many of the other picks should also push to make an impact. Strange can be penciled in as a starting guard, helping fill in for the departures of 2021 starters Ted Karras and Shaq Mason, while Jones should at least step into a prominent return role, taking over for Gunner Olszewski. Tyquan Thornton enters a wide receiver room with four well-proven veterans but has the kind of length and speed to stretch the field in a unique way.
"These rookies, their immediate impact so many times is going to come on fourth-down and in the kicking game," said Groh. "Again, that's a good place to start with speed and toughness. Coach Achord and Coach Houston, they'll get those guys put in the best position to start finding their way through the NFL as professionals, and so often that happens on special teams. All the rookies who are coming in, they've got to be prepared to strap it up on fourth-down."
3. Mac's protection
With immediate questions at guard and long-term questions at offensive tackle, the Patriots made sure to keep the offensive line well-stocked in this draft, starting with the selection of Strange and continuing to their final two selections of the draft with Chasen Hines and Andrew Steuber. All three have surprising versatility and could fill in at a number of spots. That kind of depth is incredibly important as the team looks to build solid protection in front of Mac Jones.
4. Unproven off-the-ball LBs in focus
Despite the departures of three starting linebackers, the Patriots did not tap any in the 2022 draft class, putting a focus on players like Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson and Cameron McGrone. Just Ja'Whaun Bentley is proven in New England at the position as it appears that the time is now for new second-level defenders to step up and seize prominent roles through the spring and into the summer. There are also a handful of veteran players on the roster at linebacker who should also be in the mix, players like Terez Hall, Jahlani Tavai and Harvey Langi, but a big leap would be required for them to make an impact, much less improve the defense from where it was last year.
5. Can young corners compete immediately?
Marcus Jones and Jack Jones both have some intriguing skillsets that make them good fits for the Patriots' secondary but will they be able to push for extensive roles on defense immediately out of the gate? The team did sign veterans Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell to complement Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant, while Shaun Wade will also be in the mix. But it's unclear how the competition between the young and the old will play out, with starting jobs very much up for grabs.
6. Proactivity at running back
With Damien Harris entering the final year of his deal and James White coming off an injury at age 30, there are significant long-term questions at the running back position outside of Rhamondre Stevenson after 2022. By selecting Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris, the team added some needed developmental depth at both the early-down and third-down roles. Strong is explosive and should push for immediate snaps if he can pick up the pass protection part of the role, while Harris' strong running should be a treat to watch in preseason.
7. Drafting QBs is good business
Some may have been surprised at the selection of Bailey Zappe at quarterback but it was a move that we saw potentially coming as constantly developing quarterbacks makes a lot of sense given the value of the position, even with Mac Jones entrenched at the starter's spot. Zappe possesses a lot of the same skills that made Mac a great offensive fit and his presence should help keep the most important position in the game fresh.
"One guy is only on the field, but you'd better have another good one or two or three or whoever it is in the system coming up, because you never know when those guys are going to be needed, and if you're short at that position, you're going to be in real trouble," said Groh.
8. Late DL enough?
The only draft pick in the defensive front seven was small school defensive lineman Sam Roberts in the sixth round as the team welcomes back largely the same defensive front that they fielded in 2021. They'll also be playing in front of a group of second-level defenders that are mostly inexperienced playing for the Patriots, as mentioned above. The defense looked dominant last year for a stretch before going cold down the final push of the season. Can the same group upfront recapture their mid-season magic a year later? Or could Roberts and other young players like Daniel Ekuale and Byron Cowart emerge and provide a needed boost?
9. Where's the edge?
While the interior defensive line looks largely the same, it's unclear who will be manning the edge across from Matthew Judon this season, especially on early downs. Edge was one of the sneakiest big needs in our estimation before the draft and the Patriots chose to not draft any, putting a big spotlight on young players like Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Ronnie Perkins. Is one of those players ready to step in on early downs and provide a tough edge-setting presence? It's a vital part of team defense and a question with no obvious answer. The pass rush part of the position is a little easier to project, Uche and Perkins both could get after the quarterback in college, but the pressure to produce in the NFL will be on.
10. Potential for another undrafted
The Patriots immediately began reportedly signing undrafted rookies and it appears quite a few will have a legitimate chance to make the team and continue the team's long-running streak. Miami quarterback D'Eriq King, who projects as a weapon in the NFL, headlines the group, as he could make a similar transition to slot receiver as Julien Edelman did over a decade ago.