The NFL draft is an inexact science, and the same goes for the the analysis and breakdowns leading up to the league’s college player selection meeting. While plenty of prospects get dubbed the “next Julian Edelman” or the “next Rob Gronkowski” few if any of them ever truly live up to the hype that come with such labels — be it because of the burden of expectation or because the labels are not an accurate representation of a prospect’s skills.
One of the analysts certainly not guilty of the latter is Brad Kelly, a current high school offensive coordinator and football analyst who does some of the best pre-draft work available. When Brad talks or writes about college players, the smart thing to do is to take a close look or listen. Such is the case when it comes to a new article of his published over at Cover1.net that draws comparisons between wide receiver prospects and NFL players.
While all of them are worth taking a look at, one in particular stands out from the New England Patriots’ perspective:
Tyler Johnson, Minnesota — Mohamed Sanu
Johnson has one of the more specifically unique wide receiver skill-sets that I’ve scouted in recent years, and the closest comparison would be current Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Johnson (6-2, 205 pounds) has a varied press coverage release package, with crisp footwork and lateral movements. Despite that, most of his usage came in a “big slot” type of role, crossing face of coverage and winning over the middle while not being asked to win vertically because of a lack of long speed.
Those same characteristics can be said about Sanu (6-2, 211 pounds), whose craftiness has allowed him to stick in the NFL despite running 4.67 in the 40-yard dash.
Johnson, as Brad notes, is an interesting prospect due to his combination of size and ability to play in the slot — a combination that made Sanu a productive player in the league despite a lack of outstanding physical attributes, and one New England was willing to invest a second-round draft selection in via trade. Now, the Patriots might have a chance to get a younger Sanu-clone onto their roster with one of their mid-round selections.
Sanu, of course, had a disappointing first half-season with the team after it acquired him from the Atlanta Falcons. While the veteran immediately made an impact after the trade by filling the second receiver role alongside Julian Edelman and catching 12 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in his first two games with the club, an ankle injury forced him to miss one game and limited him throughout the rest of the season.
The former second-round draft pick eventually improved again towards the end of the regular season, but failed to get on the same page as quarterback Tom Brady on numerous occasions. Despite his quick start, therefore, the ex-Falcon ultimately finished his first half-season in New England with nine in-game appearances but just 27 receptions for 218 yards and one touchdown — with a large portion of his production coming in his first two games.
Considering that Sanu can be released without any parts of his $6.5 million salary remaining on the Patriots’ books, going with a younger and cheaper player in the draft might be a realistic option for the team. While New England moving on from the veteran just a few months after sending an early-round draft choice away to get him on board would be a minor surprise, stranger things have happened in Foxborough over the years.
The most realistic outcome, however, is that the Patriots keep Sanu despite his salary cap hit — which is actually reasonable considering his potential in the team’s offensive system — but still have Johnson on their draft radar as a potential competitor for his services in 2020 and beyond.