Last April the Patriots held the 29th pick of the first round, and that's where they selected Chattanooga's Cole Strange, a Guard that most felt had value in the middle rounds. Belichick obviously felt differently.
In taking Strange at #26 they past on the opportunity to draft a few players who thus far have had pretty good rookie seasons.
The Patriots did have a need for interior offensive linemen after losing Joe Thuney in 2021 and Ted Karras this off-season to free agency, but there were other needs that could have been addressed with the 29th pick while still having the ability to find a way in round-2 or three to target Cole Strange.
Right now Strange is graded as the 66th best Guard by Pro Football Focus (PFF), out of the 83 Guards they graded.
That may not be a terrible grade for a rookie but it is not what most would be looking for out of an offensive lineman drafted in the first round.
The Houston Texans drafted Guard Kenyon Green with the 15th-overall pick. He is graded as the 81st best Guard in the league by PFF, but he has battled ankle and shoulder injuries throughout the year, and there probably aren't many highly graded players on a terrible Texans team.
At #17 the Chargers then drafted Guard Zion Johnson, who is currently graded as the 36th best Guard this year.
With the 27th pick of the 2nd-round the Vikings drafted Ed Ingram. Has has been graded as the 51st best Guard so far this season.
Joshua Ezeudu was drafted by the Giants with the 3rd pick of round-3, and he has graded-out as the 71st best Guard this season while playing as a back-up thru seven weeks before being placed on injured/reserved with a neck injury.
Dylan Parham was then selected with the 26th pick of round-3 by the Raiders. He is graded as the 50th ranked Guard.
Next Guard up was Sean Rhyan, who was taken by the Packers with the 29th pick of the third round. He played one snap this year and was then suspended for the final six games of the year for a PED violation.
The Rams used their first pick of the draft to select Logan Bruss with the 40th pick (compensatory pick) in round-3. He tore his ACL in August and will miss his entire rookie season.
With the 35th pick in round-4 the Packers drafted Zach Tom. Tom played mostly at Tackle and Center at Wake Forest but was projected as a Guard in the NFL by some scouts due to his lack of length and anchoring ability.
Tom was forced to Left Tackle for the Packers due to injuries and does not carry a grade at the Guard position, but is graded as the 39th best Offensive Tackle in the league.
There were several other Guards drafted other than the above, including two more by the Patriots, but none of them have played enough to qualify for a PFF grade.
You can see by the grades of some of the Guards listed above that there is an argument to be made that Belichick reached quite a bit when he decided to draft Cole Strange in the 1st-round. So what made him pull the trigger on Strange so early?
It seems that at least one of the reasons may have been the new offensive zone-scheme the Patriots would be installing for the the 2022 season.
The zone-scheme was designed and used very successfully by Kyle Shanahan in the mid-90's. Sean Mcvey, Gary Kubiak and Mike Shanahan have since implemented the zone-scheme with much success as well.
The most important traits that offensive linemen need to have for a zone blocking scheme is quickness and speed. That is where Cole Strange comes in.
In a zone blocking scheme the Guards are often required to pull and run around the end looking for 2nd-level defenders, or to chip an interior defensive linemen with help from the O-lineman next to him and then proceed to the 2nd-level level to engage Linebackers or Safety's. Having the quickness and speed is paramount in order to reach the areas that the Guards are required to get to in this scheme.
Cole Strange was regarded by many to be a perfect fit for a zone-scheme offense.
"He will lose a tug-of-war battle as a pure man-to-man blocker, but wins with lateral quickness and an understanding of angles as a move blocker." - NFL.com
"Has the quickness and agility to change direction in a flash - excellent overall lateral agility." - NFL Draft Buzz
"He’s a good athlete that showcases the ability to work laterally and hit blocks in space." - The Draft Network
"He gets to the second level easily and is exceptional engaging in space. The starting guard can even perform reach blocks to the second level." - SI.com
It's too early to pass judgement on Strange as to whether or not he will develop into the perfect player for the Patriots newly implemented scheme.
Learning the techniques and assignments involved in the zone blocking scheme will take time. The Patriots offense as a whole has struggled with it to this point.
It will be interesting to see if Belichick stays with the scheme or reverts back to the offense they ran in 2021, where Mac Jones and the rest of the offense seems to have been much more comfortable.
The zone-scheme has proven to be a very good scheme used by other teams, but even those teams weren't very successful with it right out of the gate.
If the Patriots are planning on being patient with the development of their players within the scheme they may have found just what they need at Guard in Cole Strange.
If they give-up on the zone concept and force Strange into a man-blocking scheme, his selection at #29-overall could become characterized as a much bigger reach than some think it is already.