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Perry: AFC exec on Strange: 'Didn't think he would go anywhere near that pick'

/ by Phil Perry
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Cole Strange

After doing some digging Thursday night and into Friday morning, here's what I've heard in the 12 hours or so since the Patriots took Cole Strange with pick No. 29 overall.

The decision to pass on Trent McDuffie, the corner out of Washington, at No. 21 overall was one of the most perplexing elements to a perplexing decision, based on NFL personnel folks I've spoken to.

The Patriots have signed veterans with starting experience at corner like Malcolm Butler and Terrence Mitchell, but they aren't considered long-term options. McDuffie is smart and versatile and there are no questions about his ability to stick with his assignments in coverage. His size and (depending on who you ask) concerns about his ability to tackle in run support on the outside may have encouraged Bill Belichick to look elsewhere.

Next Pats Podcast: Trying to make sense of the Patriots STRANGE first round pick | Listen & Follow | Watch on YouTube

On Strange, I believe Belichick when he noted in his post-draft press conference that Strange likely would've been New England's pick had it stuck with its original first-rounder. The Patriots head honcho had his sights set on Strange early and ended up getting who he wanted. But it's worth wondering if Belichick would've been able to get his guy in the second round while also adding a player at a premium position, like McDuffie, in the first.

 

"He's tough," one AFC executive said of Strange. "He plays hard. He's a good athlete. There's a lot to like there, a lot to work with ... How long would he have lasted into the second? That's probably up for some debate."

Strange is viewed as a Day 1, long-term starter with position flexibility (he'll have the ability to play all three interior spots). He may have been more widely rated alongside the likes of other consensus first-round guards like Boston College's Zion Johnson and Texas A&M's Kenyon Green had it not been for the level of competition Strange faced at Chattanooga. But his performance at the Senior Bowl and against Kentucky last season helped mitigate those concerns in Foxboro.

Still ... in the first round?

Curran: Strange could be a Pro Bowler, but he can't play defense

"Was definitely the shocking pick of the night," said another AFC exec. "Good player. Didn't think he would go anywhere near that pick."

The Patriots may have considered trading back once again to eventually select Strange, but there were a pair of familiar faces looming over that decision that may have encouraged Belichick to sit at No. 29 and take his guy.

It's clear the decision to take Strange in the first round -- and the move to pass on a potential starter at corner in McDuffie -- had teams across the NFL scratching their heads Thursday night and into Friday morning.

The Titans sat at pick No. 35 -- three picks into the second round -- and Mike Vrabel may have had his sights set on Strange. Tennessee, whose general manager Jon Robinson spent over a decade with the Patriots, values many of the same traits Belichick does. And the guard spot is among their greatest needs at the moment.

Rather than move back again -- or hope Strange fell to No. 54 in the second round -- and risk losing him to someone else, the Patriots pulled the trigger. If the Titans factored into their logic, though, my understanding is that they shouldn't have. Strange wouldn't have been an option for Tennessee at that point.

League sources have made it clear that there is depth into the second round at corner. There's depth into the third round at linebacker. The Patriots will have an opportunity to come away from the first two days of the draft with some speed to help them defend the athleticism that now resides in the AFC East.

But it's clear the decision to take Strange in the first round -- and the move to pass on a potential starter at corner in McDuffie -- had teams across the NFL scratching their heads Thursday night and into Friday morning.