It is with great pleasure, and an equal dose of humility, that I come to you today with the following news: Patriots rookie guard Cole Strange does not in fact suck at football. Why it seems he is in fact quite good at his position of offensive guard. Or so at least the early returns would indicate.
Strange, now 24 years old, has been playing football for a long time, and now at for a few months and two games at the highest level. Of course he wouldn’t or shouldn’t stink. Problem is the perception battle that started immediately on Night One of the 2022 NFL Draft. And Strange seems fine with all of it, his DGAF attitude and aggressive play perhaps combining to make him a fan favorite one day and, best of all, a successful Patriot.
Perhaps the most controversial draft selection of the Belichick era in New England (and that’s saying something), Strange has played worthy of the starting job he was given/earned this summer...worthy of being the Patriots’s first pick in the 2022 draft and 29th pick overall...and worthy of the respect of those on the field, in the press box and those watching at home.
Thing is...when the Patriots traded Shaq Mason to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this spring, receiving but a future fifth-round pick in exchange, the outcry in New England was loud. After all, Mason was Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated Patriot in 2021! And if we haven’t had a playoff win in three years can we at least cling to our analytics?! Or get something good in return? But the din, the screams, the outrage, when the Pats filled the need they created by dealing Mason away and taking Strange was deafening. Millions of armchair GMs (present company included) all screamed out in shock and horror at the pick...perhaps because many people had never even heard of Strange, though mostly because there’s nothing sexy about a first-round guard in the ages of fantasy football and weapons. Suffice to say the world was heard.
And of course who could forget LA Rams coach Sean McVay’s incredulous reaction to the Patriots taking Strange in the first...potentially two rounds earlier than most had mocked him.
To his benefit Strange, who legitimately thought he was being pranked when he received the draft night call from Bill Belichick, did as his coach would want and ignored the noise regarding his selection. Which just seems to be in his nature.
Instead Strange got to work, showcasing the power, fundamentals and on-field mean streak he was known for at UT Chattanooga. While nobody stood out, and we mean nobody, in a massively successful way during the preseason, Strange did nothing to cause alarm. And then, when the games began to count Strange got to work. First, with a solid Week One effort in defeat down in Miami.
Then really upping his game against one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts and veteran defensive tackles in Pittsburgh’s Cam Heyward. Heyward wasn’t heard from much on Sunday, and Strange was pivotal when the Pats needed the O-Line to come through most.
Strangely enough, the rookie guard was not in the top five highest-rated Patriots in Week Two at Pittsburgh, according to PFF. No matter to those in the analytics, at bars, or on the sidelines, who all saw Strange give an effort far beyond that of a player in his second pro game. His coach was even complimentary of his effort Sunday, offering, “There were some matchups in there, certainly a good test for Cole [to go against a player of that quality...I thought we were competitive. Heyward was disruptive, but certainly seen it worse, so we’ll probably take it.” That’s Belichick practically gushing about a rookie! A coach who’s notorious for making sure egos don’t get out of hand and players are kept in their place is laying it on pretty thick over a player he would likely love to take a victory lap over. And why shouldn’t he, given the reaction to his first-round pick last April.
Up next for Strange is a feisty Baltimore Ravens defensive front, who will come to town angry over their dismal finish in defeat against the Dolphins on Sunday. That team will also be joined by expectations, a dangerous ally or adversary at times for any player or team. For now that the word is out that Strange has some game and isn’t just playing because Belichick has a point to prove. People will be watching and even more eyes will be on number 69 to see if he can pass protect, hold his ground and open holes for the Pats' potent running game. Doubtful that the attention will bother him one bit. Not someplace where he believes you’re allowed to be “a d**khead”. Again, the fans should love this guy.
More importantly Cole Strange is a good guard and good at football. Nobody is putting him in the Patriots or Pro Football Hall of Fame yet. Most are just happy to put him on the field and on the list of players making a positive impact on the game week to week. So long as he keeps up his solid play the media and fans and critics alike will eat their humble pie and get behind him, just like Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson and Mac Jones are every Sunday, and Bill Belichick was last April.