Why a Patriots 6th Round Pick is by Far Their Most Fascinating Rookie of 2023
With all the respect in the world to Christian Gonzalez, the best prospect in the 2023 Draft at a crucial area of need for the Patriots, and Keion White, a Top 15 projection who not only fell to them at No. 46, but in that moment became part of a Force Dyad with Bill Belichick:
The most interesting pick they made didn't happen until late on Saturday. I said at the beginning of the week I'd probably end up doing a deep dive on pick 6.10, 187th overall, wide receiver Kayshon Boutte out of LSU. Whom they've already signed, for short money:
And as they say in terrestrial radio coming out of the break after running ads for divorce lawyers and 1-877-KARSFORKIDS, I'm going to pay off the tease.
Simply put, Boutte is compelling for reasons good and bad. There's a lot to love about his game, and reasons to wonder whether there are legitimate concerns that caused him to fall to 187. Mostly good. Which is where we'll start.
For openers, and it bears repeating, Boutte was on his way to being a mortal lock 1st rounder early in his career. He's 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, with 4.41 speed. That's a rare size/speed blender drink indeed:
In 10 games in 2020, he hauled in 45 receptions on 76 targets for 735 yards, 16.3 YPC, and five touchdowns, almost exclusively lined up out wide.
Then in 2021, he was off to a great start while splitting his time between the boundary X-receiver spot and the slot, with NINE touchdowns in his first six games. When he was repeatedly charbroiling top corners. Including the best playmaker in this draft, a man who had an FBS record SIX Pick-6s and 14 interceptions in his career on a skinny post:
That was all before Boutte injured his ankle on a sideline, toe-tap catch:
That owie required surgery. Then when a complication flared up, it needed a second surgery.
And by the time he returned to the field, he found LSU much different than he'd left it. By then, Brian Kelly had taken his talents - and his stupid, fake Southern Drawl that he suddenly developed after growing up in Massachusetts and coaching in South Bend - to Baton Rouge. For Boutte, it wasn't quite like Rick Grimes waking up in a hospital bed to find he'd missed the zombie apocalypse. But it wasn't far from it, either. New coaches. A new system. New nomenclature for everything. And he walked into the middle of it with no relationship with his coaching staff and way behind behind everyone else.
To further steepen the learning curve, Kelly moved him into the slot for about 2/3 of his almost 400 total snaps. As a result, Boutte had a career high 48 receptions, but his yards went way down. His 538 total yards in 11 games were only slightly more than he had in six games the year before. Good for just under 1.5 yards per route run and only two TDs.
Still, Boutte flashed, even against the best program in the country. Like this 53-yard catch and run in the SEC Championship:
The drop off in production dropped his draft status off the ol' Yellowstone Train Station. As a result, last December Boutte announced he was going to come back for another season to improve his situation. Before reversing field less than a week later and officially declaring. He followed that up with a pisspoor showing at the NFL Combine, which didn't help one bloody iota. The damage was done.
For all the harm the Brian Kelly section of his college career did, not everyone was down on him. I've seen Boutte graded as high as the 6th best wide receiver in this class. For instance, by draft site The 33rd Team, whose contributors include a ton of former players, coaches, executives and draft gurus. Here's what NFL Films' Greg Cosell says about him:
As you project and transition him to the next level based on three years of video, Boutte gives you inside-outside flexibility with his experience and ability to line up both outside and the slot.
Boutte showed nuance, patience and refinement as a route runner, working with pace and tempo and the needed subtle understanding of how to use his vertical stem to get corners and safeties to turn their bodies and get off their spots. There is no question route running is a strength of his game with his smooth fluid movement, route quickness and separation quickness. …
There were reps in Boutte’s LSU career in which he showed a playmaking dimension, and it will be interesting to see if he can become that kind of receiver at the next level, which would change what he would then be in the NFL.
If Boutte were to reach his ceiling, is there a Stefon Diggs comparison to be made when Diggs came out of Maryland as a fifth round pick chosen 146th in the draft?
How can anyone not be intrigued by the idea of a guy with this talent and athleticism being coached up by Troy Brown and Bill O'Brien, especially on a Belichick team that makes it a core belief not to care how anyone got there (see: Troy Brown, who was taken in a round so late it doesn't exist any more), just what you can do for them now and in the future?
As far as the bad I mentioned? There's obviously the ankle, that John Wick killing spree through the Georgia secondary notwithstanding. Then there's the problems he ran into last year:
Source - Brian Kelly admits it: He called out Kayshon Boutte.
Boutte, LSU football's star wide receiver, was not attending workouts ahead of the start of spring practices in March. Although he was still recovering from a second surgery to his right ankle that would keep him out all spring, LSU's first-year coach was disappointed in the junior's absence.
"He's a great player. He's a good kid. But this has been a rough spot for him," Kelly said in March. "And what happens is you tend to get distracted because you're not involved in everything. But he's learning you got to be involved with everything whether you're injured or not." …
Kelly told The Daily Advertiser he "threw a shot across his bow" at Boutte because of his lack of familiarity with him at the time.
"I don't normally send messages in the media to players," Kelly said. "I usually talk to them, but I didn't know him very well. So it was the best way for me to kind of get his attention."
Kelly believes that Boutte responded well, pointing out how the junior needs to be a leader among a younger corps of wide receivers.
To be clear, after the way Kelly screwed over Notre Dame by pulling a non-Fighting Irish Exit on them just as the BCS playoff was about to start, if Kayshon Boutte had walked up to him the first time they met and slapped him across the face with dead fish:
… I'd be nominating him for a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Then there's stuff that's been mentioned in some published reports that claim Kelly "dismissed" Boutte before the Citrus Bowl. I don't want to give them any oxygen because the reports themselves don't cite anything at a level above "internet rumors" and nothing illegal being alleged. But talk about "shots across the bow" and questions a junior's leadership is always less than ideal. Even if I have a major grudge with the coach who is rumored to have done the supposed dismissing.
The bottom line in all this is the Patriots expended minimal draft capital to select a guy with seemingly unlimited potential. Who ran into problems with his college coach. Who therefore was passed over for other prospects. Fell all the way to the 6th round. And who is coming to Foxboro with everything to prove. To himself, his teammates and coaches, and all of the other 31 teams that passed him up. That's a familiar story in New England. It worked out OK last time. And that guy was not the athlete Boutte is: