If there was one quality every Patriots fan hoped to acquire heading into the draft it was speed. After watching the team get a bit old and slow in recent seasons, the idea of gaining more athleticism and explosiveness was a high priority.
For once the fans and Bill Belichick seem to be in lockstep with one another.
The Patriots made some picks that surprised a few folks, but most of the selections had one thing in common: they can all run.
After opening the proceedings by taking guard Cole Strange – and even he tested as one of the most athletic players at his position among the class – Belichick had an eye toward improving the overall team speed. The next four picks can all fly. Baylor wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, Houston cornerback Marcus Jones, Arizona State cornerback Jack Jones and South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong are all athletic players who will add some mobility to their position groups come training camp.
Thornton, Marcus Jones and Strong all ranked among the fastest players at their positions, and Jones' ability to return kicks at an elite level could be a sneaky addition to the roster as well. Thornton (4.28 40) and Strong (4.37) have exceptional speed and with some development could provide the offense with the kind of explosiveness the unit has lacked in recent seasons.
"We take it all in and we consider it all," player personnel director Matt Groh said when asked specifically about Thornton's speed. "Number one thing is you've got to consider what the player does and how the player is going to help you. You want to get faster. Just like if you want to get tougher, you'd better get tough guys. You want to get faster, you'd better get fast guys.
"I don't know how many guys out there that are faster than Tyquan. So, we're really excited to be able to add him and his explosive playmaking. He is fast. To be able to get some toughness and some athleticism on the first night, and I think these other two guys, Tyquan and Marcus Jones, they're certainly tough guys, too, but at their positions, at the skill positions, they are fast."
It's a quality the Patriots absolutely needed to better compete with some of the more explosive teams in the league. While most felt the speed on defense needed to be upgraded, and that is certainly the case, it's also true that Mac Jones and the offense could use a dose of it as well.
Obviously, if teams are lighting scoreboards the way they were toward the end of last season against the Patriots, then it makes sense to try to add firepower in order to keep up. If Thornton can provide some big-play ability down the road, that's one avenue Jones may travel to make that happen.
Strong, who enjoyed a productive career at South Dakota State where he averaged 7 yards per carry last season, also has shown the ability to factor in as a receiver. A year under the tutelage of James White could make him a candidate to fill that kind of role in New England, and his electric speed could allow Jones to pick up some chunk yards off short passes down the road.
Obviously it's far too early to make any sort of assumptions regarding these Day 2 and 3 picks, but it's undeniable that the focus on adding speed was a priority.