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By Michael Hurley
/ CBS Boston
BOSTON — The temperatures are soaring, and practice fields around the country are being prepped. Training camp is almost here.
The first sign of that impending opening in Foxboro comes on Tuesday, as rookies will be reporting to Gillette Stadium to begin their first-ever summer as NFL players. The Patriots are one of eight teams with rookies reporting on Tuesday, one day after Buffalo and Las Vegas welcomed their rookies to work.
While this year’s incoming class lacks the punch and pizazz of last year’s — which of course featured a No. 15 overall pick at QB in Mac Jones — there’s still plenty of promise and potential with this group. And because the NFL Draft may feel like it took place a lot longer than two and a half months ago, now’s a good time for a quick refresher course on the Patriots’ incoming class of 2022.
OL Cole Strange
Not entirely dissimilar to the selection of Kyle Dugger early in the second round in 2020, the Patriots went way off the board with their first pick this year, selecting offensive lineman Cole Strange out of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. While the pick lacked the flash of a receiver or pass rusher, Strange figures to step right in at guard and start right away.
WR Tyquan Thornton
With their second pick, at No. 50 overall, the Patriots went with speed, speed, and more speed. Tyquan Thornton was one of the fastest players available in this year’s draft, with his unofficial 40 time at first making him the fastest player ever. That number was adjusted a bit, but still, his 4.28-second 40 showed his blazing speed.
Thornton had 948 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Patriots fans surely hope he cracks the curse of drafted Patriots wide receivers.
CB/PR/KR Marcus Jones
A sneaky large loss for the Patriots this offseason was Gunner Olszewski, who left via free agency and went to the Steelers. Olszewski helped ease the transition from Julian Edelman in the punt returner role, but without either player around, the Patriots needed a solution. Marcus Jones figures to be that man.
In addition to picking off five passes for Houston last year, he also averaged 14.4 yards on his 26 punt returns, bringing two back for touchdowns. While the kick return game has taken a much smaller role in the NFL in recent years, Jones’ 34-yard average and two touchdowns on kick returns is nevertheless worth remembering.
CB Jack Jones
The Patriots are presumably set atop the depth chart with Jalen Mills and Malcolm Butler on the outside and with Jonathan Jones in the slot. Beyond that, though, the team was in need of depth — hence the consecutive Jones selections.
Jack Jones was dismissed from USC after his sophomore season before heading to junior college and ending up at Arizona State, where he picked off six passes and forced four fumbles in 25 games.
RB Pierre Strong Jr.
Pierre Strong could turn out to be a real steal for the Patriots, as a whole lot of people thought very highly of him heading into the draft. He played at FCS South Dakota State, which worked against his draft stock, but he put up some eye-popping numbers. In 15 games last season, he rushed for 1,686 yards and 18 touchdowns on 240 carries. He also caught 22 passes for 150 yards. He averaged 7.0 yards per carry and 112.4 rushing yards per game.
QB Bailey Zappe
It seems as though the Patriots are fairly set at quarterback for the foreseeable future, but even when they had Tom Brady, they made sure to keep the QB shelves stocked by using picks at the position from time to time. In this case, they went with Bailey Zappe, who just set single-season NCAA records in passing yards (5,967) and passing TDs (62) at Western Kentucky.
The 6-foot-1 Zappe didn’t exactly project as an impact player in the NFL heading into the draft, but that absurd passing season for the Hilltoppers surely make him worth the look.
RB Kevin Harris
Described as a power runner, the 221-pound Kevin Harris was a sixth-round pick for the Patriots at No. 183 overall. On a roster with Damien Harris, James White and Rhamondre Stevenson, plus J.J. Taylor and Pierre Strong, it’s unclear what role Harris might find. But with White reportedly still not walking normally 10 months after his injury, an opening could be there for the rookie.
DE Sam Roberts
The Patriots finally made an addition to their front seven by taking Sam Roberts with the 200th overall pick. Roberts played in Division II at Northwest Missouri, winning the 2021 Cliff Harris Award as the best small-college defensive player in the country. He also grew up as a Patriots fan, despite living in Missouri.
G Chasen Hines
The Patriots went back to the offensive line with their penultimate pick, taking the 6-foot-3, 350-pound Chasen Hines out of LSU. Hines mostly played at right guard in college and played in this year’s Senior Bowl.
OL Andrew Stueber
The final pick for the Patriots was offensive lineman Andrew Stueber out of Michigan. The 6-foot-7, 338-pound Stueber is a Connecticut native who made 20 starts at right tackle and two at right guard for the Wolverines.
P Jake Julien
While Jake Bailey’s job is likely safe, the Patriots grabbed an extra leg for camp at least in Jake Julien, an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Michigan. He boasts the feat of being the only punter in EMU history with two 70-yard punts.
DL DaMarcus Mitchell
At Purdue, DaMarcus Mitchell played on the edge, recording 4.5 sacks last season.
DL LaBryan Ray
A former teammate of Mac Jones at Alabama, LaBryan Ray had three tackles for a loss last season.
OL Kody Russey
Kody Russey played center in college, first at Louisiana Tech before transferring to Houston. He earned Second-Team All-Conference honors in the American Athletic Conference last year.
DB Brenden Schooler
Playing at Oregon and Texas, Schooler spent time at safety and at wide receiver before settling back in at safety last season. He recorded 50 total tackles and a half-sack last season.
First published on July 19, 2022 / 10:35 AM
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©2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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