It's become an annual tradition to link the Patriots with more offensive weapons. Whether it's an aging veteran (is Larry Fitzgerald/Andre Johnson available?!) or a deep threat (Mike Wallace/DeSean Jackson would be great fits!), the Patriots are always assumed to be a potential landing spot.
The reasoning behind the argument is generally the same. Tom Brady needs help in his final years and adding one more player would make the offense unstoppable! It's just a matter of the type of player that needs to be added. Is it an "Aaron Hernandez"-type tight end? Is it a deep threat that the offense is missing? Is it just another possession #3 receiver?
It doesn't matter that Rob Gronkowski (2019), Julian Edelman (2017), and Brandon LaFell (2016) are under contract for many more years and that they're all under the age of 30. The Patriots need offensive weapons and they need them now.
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora is the latest to assert that draftniks can "pencil in the Patriots to take a wide receiver early." Of course early is relative when it comes to the draft.
Luckily for New England, and for those coming up with article topics, there are wide receivers of all shapes, sizes, and skills available throughout the draft. There are certainly a few players that are considered locks to be out of the reach of the Patriots (receivers Amari Cooper, Kevin White, and Devante Parker are all expected to be selected in the top half of the opening round), but the depth in this draft is staggering.
There seems to be a notion that the Patriots would want to improve upon Tim Wright's role in the offense. This all stems from the historical usage of Hernandez, and it kind of just disregards the concept of positional value. Hernandez was an option because he was cheap in the 4th round, compared to his ability; forcing a similar role onto the offense with an inflated price tag just isn't how New England operates.
This is the group that includes Michigan's Devin Funchess, Georgia Tech's Darren Waller and DeAndre Smelter, and Stanford's Ty Montgomery. Funchess is a 6'4, 230 lbs converted tight end with slow footwork and a player who didn't match the lofty expectations.
Waller is the latest in the group of Georgia Tech behemoth and freakishly athletic receivers, following Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, and Stephen Hill. A 6'6, 240 lbs receiver shouldn't be able to run a 4.46, and in the Tech offense he's definitely a viable blocking option. Smelter is smaller at 6'2, 225 lbs, and is coming off an injury, but looks to have potentially more upside.
Montgomery is supposed to be a wide receiver, but at 6'0, 220 lbs has the bulk to move around the offense. His hands are very questionable and he doesn't always win at the point of attack, but he can possibly develop into a multi-purpose option on offense.
The Athletic Freaks
There is a history of athletic, yet mystical creatures in New England, where players like Mark Harrison flash Olympic-level ability in shorts, yet disappear when asked to take the field. There are three receivers slotted at the end of the first round that should be considered buyer-beware, even though they produced at a high level in college.
Central Florida's Breshad Perriman is a threat at all levels of the field and his 4.25 40 yard dash at his Pro Day shot him up the draft board to the mid-1st round. He has questions with his hands, but he loves to attack the ball to get there before the defender. This might be a case of scouts counting his speed twice, though; it was clear that he was fast on the field and that's how he won- inflating his draft stock after the 40 verified those notions means his speed is counted twice.
Oklahoma's Dorial Green-Beckham is a 6'5, 235 lbs monster, with a quick feet and speed, as shown by his 4.49 40, and 6.89 three cone. He sat out of football last season due to a plethora of off-the-field issues and it was known that he struggled to pick-up the playbook while at Missouri. Touted as the next Calvin (that's a common theme), DGB is a question mark when it comes to how he'd develop in the Patriots system.
Arizona State's Jaelen Strong stands at 6'2, 217 lbs and absolutely demolished the Combine with a 4.44 40. Of course, this is the opposite of Perriman- Strong's speed doesn't always show up on tape and he struggled to generate consistent separation when breaking out of his routes. Still, Strong is a good bet to develop into an Anquan Boldin type of target and that's a player teams can live with.
Another athletic talent is Georgia's Chris Conley, a 6'2, 215 lbs receiver with 4.35 speed and a ridiculous 11'7 broad jump to show his explosion. He was poorly utilized in UGA's offense and he's coming out with very little polish. He's a definite project when it comes to the next level.
The Deep Threats
Thanks in part to Randy Moss, mock drafters will always try to reconnect Tom Brady with another big time target. This ignores the gradual decline in Brady's deep ball accuracy (51% in 2007, to 44% in 2010, to 40% in 2012, to 33% in 2014) and it shows a questionable understanding of how the Patriots offense functions.
But if there was ever a year to take a deep threat, this would be it.
Miami's Phillip Dorsett is a T.Y. Hilton clone and can win at any point in the deep half of the field. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he's a threat to score at any time. Ohio State's Devin Smith is the best deep ball receiver in the draft, but lacks the route tree of Dorsett, which lowers his stock.
Auburn's Sammie Coates could have the most upside as an overall receiver in this group and he always seems to shine when the lights are brightest. His three biggest performances in 2014 came against #2 Alabama (5 catches, 206 yards, 2 touchdowns), #7 Mississippi (5, 122, 1), and #15 Louisiana State (4, 144, 1). Still, he doesn't bring that consistency on a weekly basis and will have to harness his ability to thrive at the next level.
The Possession Receivers
Teams always need receivers to move the chains, even if they're not considered the top receivers in the league. Deion Branch was Mr. Reliable for the offense, as was Troy Brown, as is Julian Edelman. This is not a knock to be placed in this category- it means that the receiver can win at any level of the field, but that they might not have a singular feature that defines them.
Southern California's Nelson Agholor embodies this as he can win in the slot, outside, underneath, and over the top. He's 6'0, 200 lbs, which means he doesn't stand out as a physically imposing receiver. His 4.42 speed is good, but it doesn't stand out as excessively fast. But when you watch the tape, he's the go-to guy who moves the chains and gets the yards that the team needs in order to win. He can develop into a receiver like Golden Tate or Emmanuel Sanders if given the chance.
Other "go-to" receivers include Florida State's Rashad Green, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett, and East Carolina's Justin Hardy. Each projects to a different level- Green is potentially maxed out, but is already a solid outside player; Lockett is a sleeper to be one of the best receivers in the draft since he complements his possession skills with one of the best deep ball games in college football; Hardy is raw, yet successful, as he was primarily used underneath, so his upside in unknown.
Outside of the top two or three rounds, there are more developmental prospects who offer great size to go with their potential. William & Mary's Tre McBride, Nebraska's Kenny Bell, Michigan State's Tony Lippett, and Central Arkansas' Dezmin Lewis all played with limited route trees, but were successful with what they were asked to accomplish. All aren't world-beaters as athletes, but could contribute in a limited role.
Maryland's Stefon Diggs is a name to watch, as he flashed elite potential before injuries derailed his development. He has quality size, speed, and playmaking ability to draw midround interest, and a healthy version might have ranked higher on the draft board.
There are a few more volume receivers with skills of interest in Washington State's Vince Mayle, Connecticut's Geremy Davis, and UNLV's Devante Davis, each of whom set school marks for their production. Mayle and Geremy Davis are opposite with regards to their hands (Mayle had a ton of drops. Davis had glue on his hands), but Mayle was featured in one of the most explosive offenses in college football.
All of these players could contribute to the Patriots in some capacity, as either a potential leading man on the outside, or a role player who can take the top off of a defense. Of course, the team might not address the position at all and instead try to move forward and give Aaron Dobson and Brian Tyms one last chance to solidify themselves on the roster.
In the end, though, we all know that the Patriots are going to take Duke's 5'8, 185 lbs Jamison Crowder, the ACC's all time leader in receptions and a player who has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in each of the past three seasons. Because, let's be serious, all New England really wants is another slot receiver.