Curran: Strange could be Mankins 2.0, but he can't force the opponent to punt


Don’t "Logan Mankins ..." me. Don’t gimme that smug, "Well, if you don’t like Cole Strange then I guess you don’t like good football players."

I’m sure Cole Strange is going to be plug-and-play, ready to go. I’m sure the team won’t have to worry about offensive guard while he’s around. And that’s nice.

But you know what I really like? I like when the other team has to punt. Once. One time. As opposed to scoring a touchdown on EVERY ... SINGLE ... POSSESSION ... IN A PLAYOFF GAME!!!

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Cole Strange does absolutely nothing to help the Patriots' most glaring issue at the close of 2021 – their mind-numbing inability to stop the Buffalo Bills in either of the two late-season meetings and their inability to stop Miami in a must-win Week 18 game.

Drafting the meanest, nastiest guard -- Mankins 2.0 -- was about as soft a decision as Bill Belichick could possibly make. It’s a flop-proof pick of a player universally thought to be a second or third-round pick.

"He wouldn’t have lasted much longer," Belichick insisted Thursday night. Really? Because, judging by reactions, Bill was the only one that saw a line at the Cole Strange Store.

Not only did the Patriots fail to fill holes on defense with any of the corners or edge defenders the rest of the league was tripping over themselves to grab after New England turtled out of the 21st pick. The Patriots FILLED A HOLE THAT WAS ONLY THERE BECAUSE THEY TRADED THEIR BEST LINEMAN SHAQ MASON TWO MONTHS AGO!

When the Patriots drafted Logan Mankins out of Fresno State with the 32nd pick in the 2005 draft, they’d won three Super Bowls in four years and were 32-2 in their previous 34 games. There weren’t a lot of vacancies or holes on the best roster in the NFL. These Patriots are 17-17 since Tom Brady left. They’re 19-23 since December 1, 2019.

Maybe Belichick was just sick to death of using his first draft pick on guys who ultimately weren’t that good. In the seven years prior to taking Mac Jones at No. 15 (when they were fortunate enough to have him staring them in the face), the Patriots first selections were Kyle Dugger, N’Keal Harry, Isaiah Wynn, Derek Rivers, Cyrus Jones, Malcom Brown and Dominique Easley. So just play it safe, I guess.

Draft a corner like Trent McDuffie at No. 21 and you run the risk of him getting routinely undressed by Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Garrett Wilson and Stefon Diggs. Scary thought. Or what if he can’t play at all like second-round picks Duke Dawson or Joejuan Williams. What then?

Draft a pass-rusher like Jermaine Johnson and what if he has little to no impact like Chase Winovich or Josh Uche? What then? Wideout? N’Keal flashbacks.

Nope. You can’t go wrong with a guard. Safe. So safe, in fact, that the Rams braintrust of GM Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay were doubled over when they saw Strange was taken in the first round.

They liked him. But they thought they’d have a shot at him at No. 104. Same with two other AFC sources I touched base with.

"Too early," said one. "Could’ve got him tomorrow. He’s tough, smart and plays hard. Loves football."

"Like the player, just seemed way too early," said the other.

To use a golf analogy, drafting a guard is like being down two strokes on the par-5 18th and hitting iron off the tee.

I promise you that at some point on Friday, Snead and McVay will attempt to put the toothpaste back in the tube. "We weren’t laughing at Bill and the Patriots," they’ll say. "Obviously, WE had it wrong and Strange was much better than WE understood because Bill is Bill and he doesn’t make mistakes."

All is not lost for the 2022 draft, of course. Just because the Patriots scooped a second/third-rounder in the first round and didn’t improve their glacially slow defense which has only gotten worse with offseason departures, they can still mine for guys who might help them force a punt or two.

This is a deep draft. The Patriots now have a second-rounder and two thirds they can spend on prospects everybody else is underrating. Maybe they get a Gronk-level player in the second round. Maybe they get a Joejuan, a Tavon, a Duke, an Anfernee, a Chase or a Jordan.

At the end of the weekend, Bill Belichick will be able to sit back and say, "Well, at least I know I got one guy who can play." The Patriots got their Strange.

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