The Patriots don’t have too much of a priority for a WR in 2017, given there’s a very high chance that all five WRs from the 53-man roster on Super Bowl Sunday will be returning. Julian Edelman is an extension candidate, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan are just getting started, Danny Amendola is open towards a pay cut, and Michael Floyd’s DUI situation will likely result in a prove-it contract with the Patriots. There isn’t a need to draft a plug and play WR high given the amount of depth they’ll have for 2017. However, that doesn’t preclude them from picking up a developmental WR in the middle rounds of the draft like they did with Malcolm Mitchell in 2016.
Even if the Patriots return all five receivers, there will be a need to add a future developmental piece. Only Hogan and Mitchell are signed past 2017, although Edelman is likely also going to be around. Assuming those three will be around in 2018, there will still be a need for young depth with an aging Edelman around. One player that is very intriguing on the second day of the draft is Louisiana Tech WR Carlos Henderson. Henderson didn’t play elite competition, but did put up a stat line of 82 catches for 1535 yards and 19 TD his final year at Louisiana Tech.
Henderson’s best traits are speed and agility, which makes him an ideal candidate as a return man while he waits for an opportunity as a receiver. Coming out of an offense that primarily uses spread principles, there is going to be a learning curve for Henderson that Mitchell didn’t have to deal with in 2016. Even with some of a projection, he has done favorably well against press and zone while also doing a good job of breaking tackles.
Vs. Texas Tech 2016
The Bulldogs found a lot of ways to get Henderson the football. They threw the ball to him in space on screens, they handed him the ball on outside zone runs, and even threw him a couple deep shots. Henderson shows very good footwork, including a well-executed double move that allowed him to get wide open for a TD. His combination of speed and foot quickness makes him a difficult cover for any defensive back. If I didn’t know any better, I thought I was watching Antonio Brown cut-ups.
Patriots Fit: It’s going to be an uphill battle for Henderson to get regular snaps in the Patriots WR rotation his first year on the team. His ability to run with the ball makes him an ideal return open, both on kickoffs and punts. Route running will need to improve in order for him to unlock his full potential, but there is little pressure for him to develop immediately when the offense who will likely 5 guys who can contribute for them at WR already. I think he’ll take off in Year 2, when he gets an opportunity to show that he can be a quality NFL WR.
Pro Comp: Antonio Brown. No hyperbole here, his speed and agility remind me of the Steelers All-Pro WR. Henderson seems to be a throwback towards the failed WR prospects that Belichick drafted out of spread offenses from 2003-2015, he’s more talented than all those failures. Henderson should provide immediate value as a punt returner, assuming he doesn’t develop a Cyrus Jones-esque level of yips returning punts. While the competition level he played isn’t great, he dominated the competition his junior year and could be just scratching the surface of his potential.