Bill Belichick has not spent a first round pick on a wide receiver in his tenure with the Patriots and of the five receivers he's drafted in the first four rounds, only Deion Branch ever amounted to anything. The others, Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate, and Taylor Price, have all produced nothing on the field and are regarded as busts. Hopefully, Belichick can break that trend in this upcoming draft. But should he not take one of the prospects pointed out before, there is still plenty of talent left in the draft to be excited about. Here's the best of the rest:
Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech; 6'0, 200 lbs, 4.48 40: Patton is an above average athlete who won't blow anyone away in shorts. He has tremendous body control and has had plenty of production in his college career. He won't use his speed to break away from anyone down the field, but he uses his body and quick twitch to generate separation and create just enough space for a quarterback to drop the ball. I could picture Josh McDaniels seeing a younger Brandon Lloyd whilst reviewing the game day. A definite second round possibility.
Terrance Williams, Baylor; 6'2, 210 lbs, 4.48 40: If you want to draft a player on production, look no further than Williams. He racked up 97 receptions for 1832 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, twice as many yards as the number two receiver on the team. He's more of a loper, but he has speed in the open field. He has a large catch radius and knows how to use his body to defend the ball and protect the ball from defenders. He also helps out his quarterback by making a point to come back to the ball on hitch/hook routes to ensure he's the one who grabs it. Looks like a WR2, without WR1 upside, but he looks fairly safe as a mid-second round pick.
Ryan Swope, Texas A&M; 6'0, 205 lbs, 4.28 40: His measurables are off the charts and his offensive coordinator at Texas A&M was former Patriots quarterback and Belichick draft pick Kliff Kingsbury- so you can be sure the Patriots have some inside information. Swope has speed, explosion, and short area quickness. He's set university records for receptions and yards and, most importantly, he's stayed healthy under high volume production. Watching him on tape, Swope ran quite literally every single route that the Patriots asked Julian Edelman to run last season. Should Edelman sign elsewhere, Swope is a polished player who could take that role as a dominant possession receiver. Perhaps never a traditional #1, but he could see plenty of volume. Second/Third round option.
Stedman Bailey, West Virginia; 5'10, 195 lbs, 4.46 40: He may not receive the same acclaim as teammate Tavon Austin, but Bailey outperformed Austin as a receiver each of the past two seasons. While Auustin saw time all over the field (running back, slot, outside), Bailey spent most of his time as an outside receiver and had plenty of success, racking up 186 receptions for 2901 yards and 37 touchdowns- 25 of which came last season. That 15.6 yards/reception rate is quite solid and Bailey will make many teams happy. He has soft hands and runs quality routes- and while Austin drew a lot of the coverage, Bailey earned his keep on his side of the field. There are questions of whether his size will prevent him from being as productive in the NFL, but that's a risk some teams will be willing to take. Second/Third round option.
Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech; 6'2, 215 lbs, 4.50 40: Rogers was supposed to play alongside the potential pair of first rounders Cordarelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, but was kicked off the team due to violating the team's drug policies. He has since shown remorse, passing team interviews with flying colors by owning up to his mistakes and showing that he has grown as a person- and as proof, he's passed all of his tests at Tennessee Tech. He has all of the physical tools of a top flight NFL receiver, but that never really translated to the field. He tried to use his athleticism to get by while at Tennessee and on tape he looked like a raw player. Still, he's grown as a player and a person since he was at Tennessee and his measureables could entice a team to take him late in the second, or in the third round.
Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas; 6'2, 215 lbs, 4.50 40: Hamilton had a great season, posted 90 receptions for 1335 yards and 5 touchdowns, but it's his size that draws a lot of interest from teams. He had one of the most successful seasons in Arkansas history as the primary offensive option. He's definitely a strider and he struggled to do much down the field, but I thought he was very productive as a short range receiver and flashed enough potential in the intermediate range. He has WR2 upside and he's not a safe prospect, but for a player who could most likely be a good WR3 option with size on the outside, at the price of a likely fourth round pick, Hamilton could be a solid contributor.
Aaron Dobson, Marshall; 6'3, 210 lbs, 4.37 40: Dobson has been a rising star this off-seasoning, putting together a great bowl season and producing great numbers at his Pro Day. He has a great catch radius and has a knack for the circus catch, but he can get distracted and that led to a few dropped balls. He didn't break 700 receiving yards in any year (had the third most yards on his team this past season and was hampered by injuries), but in 2010 and 2011 he was responsible for roughly a third (32.4% and 29.2% respectively) of his team's passing yards. He has plenty of upside, but I would have liked to have seen him dominate last season. Touted as a second/third round pick, I wouldn't feel comfortable taking him until the fourth round.
Kenny Stills, Oklahoma; 6'0, 195 lbs, 4.32 40: What Stills may have left on the field in production, he's makes up for with potential. While he never surpassed 1000 yards at Oklahoma, he improved each season and was a reliable target. He lacks the polish of Swope, but could be considered a later round alternative. Consider him a player a step below Swope when it comes to route precision, soft hands, and physicality- and that's not a bad thing. Stills is a player to look for in the fourth round as a WR4 with WR3 potential.
Tavarres King, Georgia; 6'0, 190 lbs, 4.40 40: Along with the other mid round picks, King didn't put up fantastic numbers while in college- he put up consistent above average performances. He's led his team in receiving in the two years since A.J. Green left for the NFL- and let's point out that King has matched Green's production (although his "dominance" is far from the same level). King performed in the SEC against some of the top corners, and even posted 5 receptions for 142 yards in the SEC Championship game. Still, King lacks the size to be a dominant outside receiver and instead could find a niche as a solid #3 or #4 option on a team looking for a vertical option (1st in the SEC in YPC, 3rd in the nation). King's solid hands, quality route running, and uncanny knack for generation space down the field to make plays could make him a steal in the fourth round.
So never fear- while the Patriots may not be able to get DeAndre Hopkins, or maybe even Justin Hunter, there will still be plenty of talent available throughout the second and third rounds. Receivers like Patton, Swope, or Bailey could all be day 1 contributors and each provide different values for the team.
Personally, I believe that the receivers can be categorized into three different groupings:
1) Bigs: Cordarelle Patterson, Keenan Allen, Justin Hunter, Terrance Williams, Cobi Hamilton, Aaron Dobson, and Da'Rick Rogers
2) Possessions: DeAndre Hopkins, Robert Woods, Quinton Patton, Tavarres King
3) Versatiles: Tavon Austin, Markus Wheaton, Ryan Swope, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Stills
Don't look for the Patriots to double dip in any one category, but to instead spread the wealth through the groupings. Looking at the Patriots roster, we can see where they might direct their attention:
Versatile: Danny Amendola, Jeremy Ebert [Julian Edelman]
Possession: Donald Jones, Matthew Slater [Brandon Lloyd]
Big: Michael Jenkins, Andre Holmes, Kamar Aiken
So you can see that the Patriots have weaknesses across the board, with the brackets presenting players who have been associated with the Patriots and who could possibly be back with the team.
It's clear that bringing back Edelman would solidify their versatile group- players who can line up at all levels and all positions on the field. Still, should Edelman go elsewhere, drafting Wheaton or Swope in the second round could provide valuable depth in case of injury, and if the team doesn't trust the development of Ebert.
The other two positions are void of any real talent or threats. Grabbing a possession receiver like Patton could afford the Patriots to trade down and out of the first round and to pick up another desperately needed mid-round pick.
Of the big receivers, the Patriots will most likely have to spend a first round pick in order to acquire them. Patterson will almost certainly be gone from the table and Allen- and Hopkins for that matter- has been connected to numerous teams in the low/mid 20s, such as the Vikings and Texans. So if the Patriots wish to draft a big receiver, it will most likely be in the first round and it would probably fall to Hunter if they want a potential #1 WR.
Read that italicized portion. Note that the Patriots offense might not call for an elite, big WR1 on the outside of the field. Between Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Amendola, there won't be enough pass attempts to warrant an elite number one receiver.
So with that in mind, let's look at the potential double dips:
1) Ideal Situation: Patriots sign back Julian Edelman to pair with Amendola (and to handle the punts). Patriots trade out of the first round to pick up a mid-second round selection and a mid round pick. They use the first pick to draft Quinton Patton to take over the role left empty by Brandon Lloyd. The team finds a way to move up from their original second round pick and back into the middle of the round to select Terrance Williams.
Amendola provides the target in the middle of the field, as well as additional versatility, while Edelman is his back-up and runs the special teams. Patton starts off as a WR2 option with WR1 upside, while Williams provides the big body the Patriots haven't had on the outside in many years. While there is no true WR1 on the roster, there are plenty of talented WR2s on the team, with a few having WR1 upside down the road.
2) Back-up Solution: Let's say Edelman signs somewhere else and the Patriots are left high and dry. Look for the team to bring back Lloyd on the cheap to add some veteran depth. In this scenario, the Patriots don't have to trade, unless they wish to. They select Hunter in the first round and take Swope in the second. Or they trade down and out of both rounds and go for Williams and Bailey. Or Wheaton and Dobson. Or any combination.
And you know what? I wouldn't consider those bad "back-up" solutions. There is plenty of space for the Patriots to move around with 10 receiver prospects garnering consideration in the first two rounds- and you can be fairly certain that will cause some players to drop. With the team's needs being fairly focused to "wide receivers, defensive backs, and maybe an interior lineman on both sides of the ball", the Patriots continue to be in a great position.
So who do you like out of the receiver prospects?