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49ers Kyle Shanahan on Patriots Strange Draft Choice: 'Looks Like a First-Rounder'

The 49ers head coach offered his support for the Patriots’ decision to draft Cole Strange in the first round.

In what was likely the most surprising move on the first night of the 2022 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots drafted guard Cole Strange out of Chattanooga with the 29th pick. Strange, who was marked as a Day 2 prospect by many so-called "experts", wasn’t even in Las Vegas at the first night of the draft.

Patriots - Cole Strange Gillette Stadium
Patriots - Cole Strange Senior Bowl
Patriots - Cole Strange center

Unsurprisingly, the polarizing selection was met with heavy skepticism from draft media and even league peers, eliciting laughter from Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead. (They have, by the way, since clarified their reaction and apologized to Bill Belichick.)

In contrast, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan offered a flattering opinion of Strange. Said Shanahan:

"Everyone understands, everyone ranks guys and there’s a perception of when everyone is going to go, but the reality of when someone is going to go is when someone picks them and you don’t know that until it happens. You see it all over when people freak out and stuff, but a lot of these guys are really good players. I saw that with New England in the first round. Those guys don’t surprise me at all or us. Everyone in the world was saying there was no way, but everyone who watched that tape, they’re like, but he looks like a first rounder’."

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Shanahan is widely regarded as an offensive mastermind with a sharp eye for under-the-radar talent. In his five seasons as the head coach for the 49ers, Shanahan has led the team to two NFC championship appearances and a Super Bowl. Most recently, Shanahan’s San Francisco team played in the 2022 NFC Championship, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Rams.

Not that Belichick will ever be affected by outside opinions, but Shanahan’s comments are a ringing endorsement for Strange’s status as a first-round draft selection. Despite hailing from an FCS school, Strange demonstrated incredible athleticism at the combine, posting a combined relative athletic score of 9.95 out of 10, making him the seventh-most athletic guard ever measured at the combine out of 1,298 prospects. Despite his status as an FCS guard decreasing his draft value, Strange began to generate buzz at the Senior Bowl where he had a strong showing against his FBS peers.

Patriots S Kyle Dugger

Belichick, too, has been no stranger to taking risks on small-school prospects. He famously drafted Super LIII MVP Julian Edelman from Kent State in 2009 and took Northwest Missouri State defensive tackle Sam Roberts with last week's 200th overall pick. In the 2020 draft, Belichick traded up to draft Division II safety Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir Rhyne University - a successful decision in retrospect. Dugger posted a relative athletic score of 9.56 out of 10, making his athletic profile similar to Strange’s. Dugger became a promising depth piece in the Patriots defense as a rookie and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the defense as a second year. Similar to Strange, Dugger also began to stand out most to scouts at the Senior Bowl. However, unlike Dugger, Strange may find himself being an immediate starter, courtesy of a Shaq-Mason-sized vacancy at guard.

Despite the controversy of the Strange selection, there is precedent to suggest that New England will make the most of the pick.