In a draft where the New England Patriots initially had no fourth round pick (courtesy of the Aqib Talib trade), it was a pleasant -although not entirely unexpected - surprise to see them end up with a 4th rounder after all, one they used to continue building depth at one of their weakest overall positions. By taking another receiver to compliment their second round pick Aaron Dobson, the Patriots made tremendous strides in ensuring that Tommy B has as many weapons as possible coming into the 2013 season.
Josh Boyce, receiver, TCU (102nd overall pick)
Strengths: Very strong receiver with powerful legs and the ability to muscle off defenders at the line. Solid route tree combined with great foot speed makes him very difficult to cover on the short/intermediate plays. Ran a sub-4.4 40 and put up an impressive 22 reps on the bench press, which represents a rare combination of power and speed. Low center of gravity and strength makes him difficult to tackle and generates a lot of YACs. Excels in run support and able to maintain a block downfield for an extended period. Knows how to jump for a football and make the catch at the highest point possible. Can catch over both shoulders.
Weaknesses: Average in height, and while he is fast in bursts, he doesn't have breakaway speed. Somewhat limited in where he lines up, and may end up exclusively as a slot receiver. Has had trouble catching the ball away from his body. Needs to improve sideline awareness. At 200+ pounds, he's about as big as he's going to get for a receiver, so questions arise as to how much improvement he will make with a maxed-out frame. Foot injury isn't a red flag, but it is something to monitor, as any setbacks means losing valuable reps in training camp.
Roster Lock? Boyce has the good fortune to be a somewhat high draft pick at a thin position, so his place on the 2013 roster seems pretty safe. Many draft experts were surprised that Boyce fell as far as he did, and several teams had their eye on him before the Patriots snatched him up - including the Miami Dolphins. New England drafted Boyce with the intention of letting him compete for a role this year, and that's exactly what he'll do. A strong offseason from Boyce could further lessen any chance Brandon Lloyd may have had for resigning with the team.
Role in 2013: One of the more fun offseason debates around Patriots Nation right now is whether or not Boyce or his fellow rookie receiver Aaron Dobson will have a more immediate impact this season (which is something I'll be looking at more closely down the line a bit). Some point to Dobson's outside ability and deep threat potential in order to make the case that he will be the bigger impact rookie. Those in the Boyce camp highlight his more complete route tree, elusiveness, and that he's the exact kind of receiver that Tommy B loves to make the case that Boyce will have a better rookie season. I personally believe that 2013 will see Boyce competing for the WR3 role behind Dobson and Danny Amendola, as the Patriots already have multiple pass catchers that can do what Boyce does. Slot receiver in a Tom Brady-run offense is not an easy position to play, and it will be important that Boyce gets a lot of reps this offseason in order to develop that chemistry that Tommy B had with...well, you know. Plus, with Amendola already in the fold, Boyce's skillset isn't as unique as Dobson's is, so look for Boyce to get a decent amount of reps, but also see him somewhat limited as he acclimates to the offense. Of course,
when if Amendola gets hurt, it will be on Boyce to step in and contribute, so depending on how the year plays out Boyce may find himself thrust into the starting role sooner than expected.