The New England Patriots are going to “get private time” with SMU star receiver Courtland Sutton, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. Sutton was considered a first round prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft, but decided to return to school for another year to develop.
He didn’t hurt his prospects.
The 6’3, 218-pound Sutton is considered one of the top wide receivers in the NFL Draft. Sutton collected 862 yards and 9 touchdowns in his redshirt freshman season and followed it up with an incredible 1,246 yard, 10 touchdown sophomore season. He returned for a third season to collect 1,085 yards and 12 touchdowns this past year as a two-time First Team All Conference star.
At the combine, Sutton ran a solid 4.54s 40 yard dash and jumped solid 10’4 broad jump, but his most impressive scores were his 6.57s three cone time (8th best at the combine, 3rd best for receivers) and his 4.11s 20-yard shuttle time (16th best at the combine, 4th best for receivers).
Sutton is a big-bodied receiver that can win contested passes on the sideline. He’s not going to pull away from defenders after the catch and he doesn’t run the crispest routes, but he has the necessary quickness to take the next step if he continue to develop as a player in the NFL.
A favorite comparison for Sutton is Alshon Jeffery, which would be a nice addition to the Patriots offense, especially in the red zone.
The Patriots also met with Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk and with Maryland receiver D.J. Moore. Those two, along with Sutton and Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley, are considered the best receiver prospects in the draft. Ridley is expected to be the first receiver selected and to go inside the top 20 and isn’t likely to be an option for New England.
But I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots used their 31st or 43rd pick on a wide receiver. I think they would prefer to use it on an offensive lineman, linebacker, or defensive back, and would love a top quarterback prospect to drop down in the first round. But if they draft a wide receiver, I wouldn’t blink- and here’s why.
Sutton, Kirk, and Moore are three extremely different receivers.
As stated, Sutton is the big-bodied outside receiver that the Patriots have been churning in recent years, with Michael Floyd and Kenny Britt. It could be argued that Malcolm Mitchell falls in this category because his catch radius is similar to a huge outside receiver. The Patriots want someone with Sutton’s skill set.
The 5’10, 201-pound Kirk is a yards-after-the-catch specialist that would slip into the Patriots slot receiver role and could also contribute as a kick and punt returner. The Patriots are looking to replace Danny Amendola in the lineup and currently have Cordarrelle Patterson and Jordan Matthews as competition.
The 6’0, 210-pound Moore falls in the middle of both Sutton and Kirk. He can play inside and outside. He has speed and quickness. He doesn’t offer the big body on the outside that Sutton provides, or the same yards-after-the-catch savvy as Kirk, but he’s good enough in both categories. If the Patriots want a future replacement for Julian Edelman, Moore could be an intriguing option.
This exercise is necessary to show that all three players have a specific role within the Patriots offense, which is the most important factor in whether a prospect should interest the team.
Another important factor is financial. Veteran wide receivers are making silly amounts of money. The Patriots have missed out on veteran free agents like Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in recent years because they’ve been outbid- not that it’s ultimately had too much of an impact. They acquired Brandin Cooks, but subsequently traded him away before his price tag would affect the cap.
New England has done well by signing second- and third-tier receivers like Julian Edelman (at the time) and Chris Hogan and I wouldn’t argue with anyone that believes the Patriots should stay the course and keep signing those types of players.
But we’re seeing underwhelming third-tier receivers like Paul Richardson and Donte Moncrief and Marquise Lee and Albert Wilson average 523 yards and 3.5 touchdowns over the past two seasons and still sign deals worth $8-10 million per year. The Patriots are going to be far harder pressed to find suitable receivers on as cheap of deals as in prior years.
As a result, the market is shifting back towards receivers on rookie deals- either through the draft or as restricted free agents.
And since the upcoming draft looks flush with quarterbacks and running backs and defensive backs and offensive tackles, there’s a chance a run at any of those positions could cause one of the top receivers to fall to the Patriots at the end of the first or the start of the second, offering great value that could be worthy of New England’s selection.