The New England Patriots have made three selections so far in the 2022 NFL Draft, and there is a clear common thread tying them all together (other than, of course, the uniform they will be wearing). All three of them, after all, have an outstanding athletic profile and are just pure freaks of nature from that perspective.
Offensive lineman Cole Strange, wide receiver Tyquan Thornton and cornerback Marcus Jones all possess elite athletic traits. In fact, all three are near the top of their respective position groups in terms of athletic profile and natural abilities to play the game.
“We were clamoring for athletes, they got the fastest player in the draft, the best returner in the draft due to his speed, and then probably the most athletic offensive lineman there was,” Pats Pulpit’s own Keagan Stiefel said about New England’s haul after the Jones selection on Friday night. “If you wanted athletes, you got athletes.”
The first of those athletes added to the equation was Strange, who was picked 29th overall by the Patriots in the first round. While the pick was a polarizing one — the Chattanooga product was widely projected as a third-round prospect — there is no denying his athleticism.
A look at his Relative Athletic Score reveals that he is one of the top athletes at the guard position to enter the league in the last few years. In fact, he is ranked seventh among almost 1,300 players at his position group over the last 35 years:
With the exception of his weight and his vertical jump, Strange is near the top of the table in every single testing category. His small-school status likely contributed to his low pre-draft projections, but his skills should not be underestimated. The 23-year-old is an immensely talented football player and from that perspective should hold his own versus NFL competition right away.
“He’s almost 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, and runs sub-5 seconds in the 40. There’s not a lot of humans out there that are doing that, benched 225 31 times. This is a really big, strong, tough, athletic guy,” Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh said about his team’s first-round pick.
Day 2 selections Tyquan Thornton and Marcus Jones do not possess that well-rounded an athletic profile, but they too have some intriguing traits. Thornton for example, has legitimate game-breaking speed:
His overall RAS score is comparatively low due to his poor performance in the agility drills and his 181-pound frame, but his game is not built around either. Instead, the Baylor wideout is asked to take the top off of defenses with his blazing — and we mean BLAZING — straight-line speed: he ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine.
His speed splits are outstanding as well, but other aspects of his profile stand out as well. He has a good size/length combination at 6-foot-2 and 33-inch arms, and offers impressive explosiveness as evidenced by his broad jump.
The Patriots traded up in the second round to pick Thornton 50th overall, and it is no hard to see why. He adds an element of speed to the team’s position group that is rare.
“If you want to get tougher, you’d better get tough guys. You want to get faster, you’d better get fast guys,” said Groh shortly after Thornton was drafted. “I don’t know how many guys out there are faster than Tyquan. So, we’re really excited to be able to add him and his explosive playmaking.”
Speaking of speed: Marcus Jones. While Jones is the one player whose testing numbers are not available — offseason surgery on both his shoulders prevented him from participating in the Scouting Combine and his pro day at Houston — his tape shows a player who can fly down the field in a hurry as well.
For what it is worth, Jones already ran a 4.72-second 40-yard dash coming out of high school. It is no stretch of the imagination that he is a lot faster now than he was five years ago. That alone makes him a factor as a return man, and should allow him to carve out a role as a nickel cornerback in the slot as well.
He and the other two players thus far added by the Patriots in this year’s draft address a key issue that has plagued the team in 2021: a lack of speed. New England is a faster, and more athletic team, thanks to all three of its draft picks in the first three rounds.
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