It's not a secret that we have to discuss behind closed doors. It's a generally accepted fact that the New England Patriots are awful at drafting wide receivers.
And it's pretty simple to understand why.
The Patriots run an incredibly complex offense that requires receivers to see the field as if they were inside the head of quarterback Tom Brady. Any wide receiver that is going to succeed will need to understand the nuances of the game and how to attack defensive coverages.
This style of offense requires receivers to run precise routes and to sit in the middle of the field against certain coverages. If the receiver can't read a defense, they're not going to see the field.
New England fails to find quality receivers in the draft because the front office has an obsession with physical projections instead of proven ability. Players like Bethel Johnson, Taylor Price, Aaron Dobson, and Worst 2nd Round Pick Chad Jackson litter the early rounds because they offer tremendous athletic ability, but have little polish as a receiver.
And the issue with drafting these players full of potential is that they aren't expected to work out; the Patriots are playing against the odds. Kevin Cole of Pro Football Focus developed a model that attempts to predict the success of a college prospect and the key factors are generally accepted in all analyses.
The drafted age of the receiver is important, as are the receiver market shares (we covered the concept of market share here), and the receptions and touchdowns per game in their final year. These factors can combine to create a "Prediction Score" that is expected to highlight the odds that a player will be a success.
Cole provides the prediction scores of 390 drafted and key receivers since 2000 so we can affirm the simple fact that the Patriots are obsessed with projections.
2002 2nd round pick Deion Branch actually posted the 39th best prediction score, by far the best of the Patriots draft picks. It's little wonder why he's the only successful early round draft pick in the Bill Belichick era.
Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate, Aaron Dobson, and Taylor Price all come in under the average Prediction Score, which means that the odds of them becoming successful at the NFL level were extremely slim.
In fact, other than Branch, only one other receiver posted an above-average Prediction Score: 2013 4th round pick Josh Boyce, who showed the uncanny ability to be exactly where he needed to be on every single route, only to drop the ball without fail.
Players like David Givens and Julian Edelman rank towards the bottom of the list because they were projections. Edelman was a former quarterback and Givens came out of an offense with quarterbacks that couldn't crack 2,500 passing yards in his final two years combined (Givens actually accounted for 81 of the team's passing yards over those seasons). They were both 7th round fliers, and more in line with where Dobson and Price should have been selected based off of their projected success.
Who are some of the 2016 prospects that project to be successful at the NFL level?
There's some hope if the Patriots want to find a good receiver in the 2nd, or even 3rd round.
Players like Rutgers' Leonte Carroo (comp: a rocked up Emmanuel Sanders) and Notre Dame's Will Fuller (comp: Golden Tate) would be found in the 2nd round, as could Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd (comp: a less flashy Randall Cobb) and Colorado State's Rashard Higgins (comp: Sidney Rice?).
Players like Utah State's Hunter Sharp (comp: Doug Baldwin) could be found even later.
While there might not be many traditional WR1s in this draft (for whatever that term is worth), there's still a lot of talent if teams are willing to look for it. The Patriots just need to know what they're looking for.