Positional overview: This is the position I was going to do before Gronk retired and I switched to Rapid Response Team mode to quickly bang out one about tight ends. The thing is, each and ever single year I listen to the podcasts and read the mocks and watch the TV guys and almost without exception they say the Patriots are – have to be – making wide receiver their top draft priority. But not just any wide receiver. Say it with me now … someone who can stretch the field and give Tom Brady a weapon who can take the top off the defense. Someone like … well you can finish the rest. When draft in and draft out I say they’re not making it a priority and tell everyone to stop me when I’m wrong and no one has done it yet.
Most teams draft about 2.5 WRs for every one TE. Which makes perfect sense you can plainly see whenever they break a huddle. Well in 19 drafts the Patriots have taken just 16 WRs to 10 TEs. And while two of those tight ends were 1st rounders and another was Gronk at 42nd overall, fully half of their receiver selections have been in rounds 5, 6 or 7. Slater doesn’t count. Only three of their WR selections have been in the top 65. And they’ve never taken a wideout in the 1st round.
But as little as they value the position and treat it like the detailing on a car when they’d rather spend their money on filters and lube, I agree this is the year they need to address it. After taking runs at a several potential free agents like Golden Tate and Adam Humphries, as well as a few guys who weren’t even on the market (I heard rumors about Mohamed Sanu and Adam Thielen) and landing none of them, they need an influx of young guys who can function in this system and be under their control for decent money for the next four years or so. The way Malcolm Mitchell would have been if he could’ve stayed healthy.
And I remind you like I do every draft: It’s not about field stretching and defenses’ tops being taken off. It’s about making the same reads as the quarterback, anticipating, getting open, running precise routes, pulling defenses’ tops down and motorboating them all the way to the Super Bowl.
Current Roster: Julian Edelman, Philip Dorsett, Bruce Ellington, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson, Josh Gordon* and full time WR In Name Only Matthew Slater
The Man Who Broke the Combine:
DK Metcalf, Ole Miss. 6’3″, 228 lbs, 4.33 40-time
There’s one of these guys every year, who make the stopwatch crowd at the Indianapolis Kennel Club Show look at each other and nod like the Soviet trainers in the lab coats during the Ivan Drago training montage. Last year it was Saquon Barkely. The year before it was Myles Garrett. Those guys came off the board No. 2 and No. 1 respectively. It remains to be seen how high Metcalf will go but he’s the kind of physical specimen Matt Millen drafts in the middle deep in REM sleep. Plus he’s a legacy, with a grandfather, father and uncle who all played DI or pro ball. Yet for all his crazy speed and his Magic Mike physique, not everyone is sold on him. He was putting together a great season until injuring his neck seven games in and missing the rest of it. He’s proven he can blow past even of coverage, and fight through press, but is considered more of a linear sprinter than a precise route-runner. He tends to round off his breaks and stems, which isn’t a deal-killer in some systems (The Greatest Show on Turf did that). He made a ton of one-handed catches last year but then will lose focus coming back for a ball and dropped some easy ones. He’s also considered a very good upfield blocker. So he’s very much boom or bust. Where he’s selected should be the most interesting non-QB story of the draft.
Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Josh Gordon
Teammate of the Man Who Broke the Combine Who Might Be a Better Pro:
AJ Brown, Ole Miss. 6-0, 226, 4.49
Brown doesn’t have Metcalf’s size or speed. Nowhere close to it. But he was Mississippi’s WR1 and leaves with the program’s all time record for receiving yards. He’s the best Yards After Catch guy in his class, with a thick build, good field vision and innate ability to set up his blocks that makes him hard to bring down. He’s a much more precise route-runner than Metcalf. He line up all over the place as he played almost exclusively in the slot in 2017 before moving outside last year, which was a good move because he was productive. Still he’ll need to be in the right system (think a West Coast offense) as he’s more of a smooth mover than a guy with the elite athleticism to be a home run threat. But he’s got the hands (with big 9 3/4″ Wreck-It Ralph paws on him) and competitive toughness to be a solid NFL receiver.
Compares to the Other Leading Brand: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Almost Certain 1st Rounders Under 6-Feet:
Marquis “Hollywood” Brown, Oklahoma. 5-9, 166, 4.32 (unofficial)
Antonio Brown’s cousin came out of high school at just 130 lbs and with an even lower GPA, so he went off to that noted football factory College of the Canyons and working part time jobs to get his shot. And ended up a Oklahoma catching bombs from Kyler Murray. So he’s a hell of a story already. He didn’t run in Indy, but he didn’t have to. His game tape says everything. Not only about his top-end speed, but his suddenness, which gives him the best off-the-line release in this group. He’s got a Warp Factor 11 acceleration, making him a huge threat in open space as the NFL evolves more to an open space kinda league. Still, it’s not unreasonable to question whether a guy smaller than TY Hilton can hold up for long in the pros, and he was slowed by a foot injury that held him without a catch against Bama in the playoffs (Note: It still feels weird to say “in the playoffs” about college ball but I do love it). But he’ll still go high. And the Patriots used a Combine visit on him.
Compares to the Other Leading Brand: DeSean Jackson
Parris Campbell, Ohio St. 5-11 1/2, 205, 4.31
As you’d imagine with a converted track star who once ran a 10.3 100-meter dash in high school, Campbell blew everyone away with his 40 at the Lucas Oil Olympics. He’s coming off three straight Big 10 All Conference selections, but the feeling was he’s still a bit of a gadget player who could’ve used another year in school. Meaning he’s still a little unpolished in his routes, so the Buckeyes got 1,000 yards out of him with bubbles, WR screens, jet sweeps and end arounds, in the same way Urban Meyer used Curtis Samuel. Still, he helped himself a ton with his performance in Indy, where he showed good hands in all the catch drills, and at least one personnel guy said he was the most impressive player in the place. He’s considered a leader and was voted team captain. And he’s a four down player who could be an elite return man while he develops as a receiver.
Compares to the Other Leading Brand: DeSean Jackson
The Next Tier:
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina. 5-11, 214, 4.48
Fun Fact: Samuel’s first name is Tyshaun but he got “Deebo” from the guy in Friday growing up because he was into bullying kids. Which you probably not the attitude you want in your kid’s middle school, but the harsh reality is nobody much cares if SEC cornerbacks go back to the athletic dorm and cry face down into their pillows. He was considered a solid prospect until he did himself a huge favor by crushing the competition at at the Senior Bowl. At the practices in Mobile, he showed the ability to separate from some of the top defenders in the country with pre-break moves and fakes, and was making hand snatches where other prospects were trying to make body catches and putting the ball on the ground. He had his first fully healthy season last year after dealing with chronic hammy issues prior to that. He projects to being a solid No. 2 or 3 NFL receiver.
Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Pharoh Cooper
Riley Ridley, Georgia. 6-1, 199, 4.58
This is Calvin Ridley’s brother. [Troy McClure voice:] You may remember him from such wide receiver performances as “Nine TDs as a junior” and “six catches for 82 yards in the 2018 National Championship Game.” You can argue that his production hasn’t lived up to his skill set, but he does have a skill set. But then again, there’s been a lot of talent on that Bulldogs offense to share the ball with. He’s a tough, physical receiver who pushes through press coverage to get into his routes and fights for contested balls. He’s got great hands and his 32 5/8″ arms give him a good number to multiply by Pi to determine the area of his catch radius (if that’s how you do that). He’s not an explosive deep-threat type. But he’s a chain mover with a great shot to be the No. 2 receiver for a team that values the short passing game.
Compares to the Other Leading Brand: James Jones
N’Keal Harry, Arizona St. 6-2, 228, 4.53
Unless I’m missing somebody, Harry is about to become the entire population of NFL players born in the nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. While he’s not an explosive player, he feeds off contested catches, comebackers and back shoulder throws. He’s been largely considered a potential Day 2 pick thanks to his toughness and pro-level body control when fighting for balls. But word is he’s dropping down draft boards as personnel guys aren’t seeing suddenness in and out of his breaks or explosiveness. The comparisons to Devin Funchess aren’t helping. But in a short passing/controlled offense, he could definitely find a role.
Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Mychael Thomas
A Small School Folk Hero:
Andy Isabella, UMass. 5-9, 188, 4.31
Isabella has been buzzing the tower of every draft geek in New England for at least a year. And even longer for Minutemen fans. Pretty much ever since his first game when he had a 53-yard grab against Florida and finished with three catches for 94 yards even though he only played like 15 snaps. He seemed like someone who would fly too low to give off a ping too many radars given his size and the program he plays for. On the other hand, Victor Cruz went to UMass, was left undrafted and did nothing less than be the best receiver on the Giants Super Bowl winner. So there’s that. The thing about Isabella is that my brother Jack – who’s my draft Miyagi – has had such throbbign draftwood for
Isabella for so long that I sent him this in late February,from Pro Football Focus:
Note that is not a ranking of their receivers; that is overall prospects. A major analytics site ranking him in sixth at any position plus the fact he was right behind Campbell in his 40-time and posted the sixth best 3-Cone time convinced me he was out of the Patriots reach. And he still may be. But all the sites I’ve checked have him in the mid-teens to mid-20s at his position. Go figure this business. Anyway, what is he? He’s quick with short area suddenness. He’s obviously got elite vertical speed. He’s someone you can put into motion to get him at full speed before corners have a chance to react. Oh, and all he did last year was catch 102 passes for almost 1,700 yards and 132 TDs after catching 65 for 1,020 yards and 10 TDs as a junior. And at the Senior Bowl he more than proved he belonged among the best in the country.
Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Taylor Gabriel
A Sleeper Pick:
Hakeem Butler, Iowa St. 6-5, 227, 4.48
Butler made a huge leap from his sophomore season to last year, going from 41 receptions to 60, but practically doubling his yardage from 697 to 1,318. His size is his obvious advantage, to go along with strong hands, a good vertical and the fluid mechanics to develop into a classic X-receiver. But he’s also played the slot. He’s dropped too many passes to be a top pick, but he could be a steal late as a big receiver/red zone threat.
Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Danario Alexander
The Perfect Patriot: Riley Ridley. Given the connections to Urban Meyer and all the traits Parris Campbell possesses, I feel like I’m going to be kicking myself for not putting his name in here. But Ridley seems to check all the boxes as well. Obviously the Pats have an insatiable Georgia Bulldogs fetish. But more to the point, he’s got the toughness and physicality they love and the size they lack.
Whom the Patriots Will Take: Ridley. By moving around the draft board, somewhere in the 2nd round.
Whom the Patriots Will Take Part II: Andy Isabella. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I think also he’s a great fit and will be a steal as a weekend pick. Make it so.