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Patriots Draft Grades: Most Of The Experts Aren't Fans Of Bill Belichick's Decision-Making

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Certainly, the Patriots' draft strategies have been questioned in the past. Sometimes, the critics were proven to have been very correct. Other times, not as much.

This year, though, feels like a crossroads of sorts.

Unlike in the past, when an unsuccessful draft wasn't going to stop the Patriots from marching to the AFC Championship Game, the stakes were a bit higher for a team that hasn't won a playoff game in three seasons and is losing ground in the AFC East. If the Patriots failed to add players who can quickly make an impact -- especially after a tepid free-agency period -- then the decisions are sure to be scrutinized like never before.

Of course, the reverse remains true. If New England gets contributions in year one from a handful of new additions, then the draft "experts" and "gurus" will have to reevaluate their standards.

That latter scenario does feel a bit difficult to envision, but the forthcoming season will provide the canvas for the story to be written -- whatever it is.

For now, all that's been written are draft grades. And they are ... unkind to Belichick. Here's what the people who dedicate a large portion of their lives to the NFL Draft are saying about the Patriots' work over the weekend.

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN
Grade: C+

"Are we allowed to question a draft from Bill Belichick?" Kiper asked rhetorically.

Kiper's biggest issue with the Patriots' top two picks was value.

"[Cole Strange] likely would have been on the board when the Pats picked in the middle of Round 2. I know a hole opened up at guard when Shaq Mason was traded to the Bucs, but value matters in the draft, and Strange needs to play at a Pro Bowl level for years to come to justify this selection," Kiper said.

Kiper also said there were "several better wide receivers available" when the Patriots traded up to take Tyquan Thornton in the second round.

Kiper did like some picks, like cornerback/returner Marcus Jones and running back Pierre Strong Jr. Nevertheless, the C+ grade was the lowest one Kiper handed out to any team.

(In the AFC East, Kiper gave an A to the Jets, a B to the Bills, and a B- to the Dolphins.)

Pro Football Focus
Grade: D

PFF said Cole Strange was "the biggest reach of Round 1," as he ranked 86th on their big board. Unlike most expectations placed on Strange, PFF actually consideres it "highly unlikely" for him to be a "major contributor early on."

PFF also had Thornton as the 192nd best player available in the draft, so the Patriots trading up to take him at No. 50 earned a negative grade. PFF has concerns about Marcus Jones' size, but did seem to like the Bailey Zappe pick., Chad Reuter
Grade: C+

Reuter actually liked the Patriots' work in rounds four through seven, giving the team an A for those seven picks. But the picks on Thursday and Friday were enough to bring the grade down to a C+.

Yahoo Sports, Eric Edholm
Grade: C-

"As a rule of thumb, most of their picks — other than Marcus Jones — were taken about a round higher than we would have liked, and there was repetition (Jack Jones, Bailey Zappe) to pieces they have already on the roster," Edholm said. "Grabbing a 2023 third-rounder from Carolina was maybe their best move of the weekend."

Sports Illustrated, Connor Orr
Grade: B-

SI actually liked what the Patriots did, looking positively on the speedy additions of Thornton and Strong.

The Washington Post, Mark Maske
Grade: C

"Bill Belichick's history of surprising picks devoted to obscure players continued with the first-round choice of G Cole Strange from Chattanooga," Maske wrote.

Maske wasn't overly critical of the pick, despite it being a "major reach," as he said Strange could help immediately.

CBS Sports, Pete Prisco
Grade: C-

Prisco listed Strange as the Patriots' worst pick, but he actually listed Thornton as their best pick, saying he "will be a star."

Obviously, the exact grades don't mean much. Because ultimately, if the players are good, the exact draft positioning and everything else won't matter.

Still, considering that there does seem to be a consensus that their top two picks could have been taken later on -- thus allowing the team to have selected some players with more talent in those spots -- there will no doubt be an added level of attention and scrutiny on this year's rookie class. If the Patriots do end up taking a step back from their 10-7 season a year ago, a lot of fingers will immediately point at this draft class -- which was almost universally considered to be a unique road to travel for Belichick.

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