Coming off a season where the New England Patriots really got nothing from the wide receiver position outside of Julian Edelman, it’s almost a given that the team will look to add more youth and play-making ability through the draft. The 2020 draft class is perfect for this: it is loaded with talent and a lot of players that could excel here in New England, so let’s take a look at some of the players the Patriots may target in late April.
Henry Ruggs III
Size: 6’0, 190 lbs
Henry Ruggs is projected anywhere from just outside the top-10 to the late first round, but all of that aside, he may be the best playmaker in the draft. A 4.2-runner who can get to the top gear quickly and beat anybody vertically, Ruggs would bring a ton of playmaking and speed to a position that lacked both last year.
Once a top-50 basketball player in the country and track and field champion in high school, Ruggs is super athletic and explosive in and out of his routes while shining in the open field. He also deserves a lot of credit for his ball skills and ability to make contested catches despite being a little undersized. He’s not your typical “speedy” type of receiver, but he is extremely tough and plays bigger than his 6-foot-0, 190-pound frame may suggest.
He also has the ability to take a swing or three-yard slant to the house immediately. A true playmaker with the ball in his hands, his run-after-the-catch-abilities are off the charts. New England lacked speed and big plays from the wide receiver spot in 2019, and Ruggs would solve that immediately.
Some concerns with him are that he does struggle a bit to find consistent separation, especially at the line of scrimmage, and relies heavily on his acceleration to create space. He will need to work at the line of scrimmage to find consistent separation other than using his speed and acceleration.
All in all, Ruggs is in fact my WR1 in this draft simply because of his playmaking ability. He’s a tremendous talent that can make the big play at the NFL level right away. He’s going to blow people away with his speed, vertical skills, and athleticism. The question is whether or not he will he fall to the 23rd overall selection? Also, with spending a first-round pick on a receiver last year (N’Keal Harry) and trading a second for another one (Mohamed Sanu), it makes you wonder if Bill Belichick would invest in this position early again.
Size: 6’3, 190 lbs
Jefferson flew up the draft board this past year and is projected to come off the board in the mid to late first round. He proved to be Joe Burrow’s favorite target as he ranked first in the NCAA in touchdowns (18) as well as third in both catches (102) and yards (1,434).
Jefferson is a great route-runner who has the ability to play any receiver spot on the field. He displays body control with strong hands and has the ability to go up and make contested catches. He also has a decent feel for finding soft spots in the defense and never struggled to get open for Burrow.
He played primarily out of the slot and saw a lot of soft coverage, but when pressed, he beat it consistently which doesn’t cause for much concern for him playing the outside at the pro level with some added size.
Jefferson found a lot of success in the intermediate and deep game which is something the Patriots have really lacked the past two years. He’s great over the middle of the field and was a monster for LSU after the catch.
His speed doesn’t necessarily “wow” you as it takes him a bit to get going and reach top gear. However, he always finds a way to get open and exploit soft spots in coverages to make plays with the ball in his hands.
Overall, he’s still a raw prospect as he just turned 21 and flew up the draft boards due to a monster season. Burrow did make his job easy at times but he still shows tools that project to a solid WR2 at the NFL level.
Size: 6’4, 205 lbs
Higgins is a true red zone threat after hauling in 25 touchdowns in the last two years while catching 59 passes in both ’18 and ’19 for a combined 2,103 yards. He is a physical, boundary wide receiver with long speed, great hands and extreme RAC-ability.
Higgins can go up and get it with any wide receiver in the draft, and displays good body control and a large catch radius. He does a great job using his size to beat press coverage and excels as a blocker in the run game. He’s a true X-receiver with speed that doesn’t necessarily jump off the screen but is dangerous down the field, and size that allows him to get behind defenses.
As noted above, he also is a beast in the red zone as he can go up and out-jump and out-muscle a lot of guys on him. Higgins is also great in the fade/jump ball game while also being one of the better RAC receivers in his class that can bully guys in the open field once he reaches his top gear. His 18.1 yards per reception at Clemson are no coincidence.
Higgins projects as a late first-/early second-round pick due to his limited route tree and being primarily a vertical guy. With added quickness and weight, however, Higgins has the ability to be a true number one receiver, but he is far from a well-rounded wideout straight out of college.
Overall, the Patriots would likely have to select Higgins with the 23rd overall selection if that is where they decide to go. A move like this will allow last year’s first-round pick, N’Keal Harry, to play in his true spot out of the slot and have Higgins play the X-role on the perimeter. He may not step in right away and be the savior to the position but with time and experience, he projects as a true playmaker at the NFL level.
Size: 6’2, 205 lbs
Johnson holds the program record for yards (3,305) and touchdowns (33) and has surpassed 1,100+ yards in each of the last two years. He is one of the best route runners in the draft and likely going to be a mid-round pick come April.
One of the best traits to his game is that he is a super polished route runner with a high football IQ. He’s really good in and out of his routes which allows him to become a threat as a runner after the catch.
Johnson has great hands and a feel for the ball, and catches just about everything thrown his way. He was a big red-zone threat for Minnesota, making contested catches look easy despite pressure all over him. He also displays good body control and high-points the ball very well.
Overall, Johnson is a real polished, mature receiver with great hands and athleticism. He could have an impact right away and would be one of the better options for the Patriots in the third round for this position if the board shakes out the way it is projected to.
School: Ohio State
Size: 6’0, 195 lbs
Hill caught several eyes after the route-running clinic he put on at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile a few weeks back, and many draft analysts feel that he is the best pure route-runner in the class.
He broke the Ohio State record for most receptions in a career (201 while working with four different quarterbacks in his five years there) and really excels in the short game as he saw lot of screens, digs and slants. Hill has above-average field vision that turns into a threat with the ball in his hands. He also possesses great feet and speed that has the ability to find soft spots in the defense.
He worked primarily out of the slot and was incredibly consistent. Hill plays super-fast and is slippery in the open field who can make things happen as a runner and is definitely up there for one of the better RAC guys available.
Overall, he is a consistent player who can excel in the slot with added size at the next level. The talent is definitely there, but he will need to round out his game more to be a true threat in any offense. He has a WR3 skillset the can translate to the NFL level right away and certainly has the opportunity to be a true steal for any team that selects him in the later rounds.
Size: 6’2, 200 lbs
Another Senior Bowl standout, who racked up a solid and consistent career at Ole Miss and Florida. Jefferson is a great separator and a fluid route runner who is also the son of former Patriot wide receiver and current New York Jets receivers coach Shawn Jefferson.
Jefferson is one of the best route runners in the senior class as he’s very fluid in and out of his breaks and can create separation. He has strong hands with a big catch radius and has experience both inside and outside.
One of his best traits is at the line of scrimmage as he knows how to wind defenders up in certain ways in order to break away and gain more separation. He may not be very fast, but he creates enough wiggle with his footwork and physicality to get away with it and a chain mover that will excel in the intermediate-deep game right away at the NFL level.
One concern is his age as he will already be 24 by the start of Week 1, but he fits the mold of a Patriots wide receiver as an above-average blocker who plays with a lot of grit and has a high motor. Jefferson projects as a strong WR2/WR3 that will excel on passing downs to create natural separation. He relies heavily on his quickness off the line and will most likely be a late day two/early day three guy come April.
Size: 6’3, 205 lbs
Mims has great hands and burst off the of scrimmage line and was another Senior Bowl standout as he won 94% of his routes at the event according to Pro Football Focus. He has a great catch radius and seemingly always makes the reception, especially the contested ones.
One of the more explosive wide receivers in the draft, he has long speed that makes it difficult for cornerbacks to run with him. He can certainly out-muscle a lot of guys at the top of his routes and as a ball carrier but his best trait is his insane catch radius.
Mims has very good size and athleticism that can translate well into being more of an outside receiver. He displays a great level of competitiveness and fights for every yard, especially with the ball in his hands.
He could definitely extend his route tree a bit as he excels mainly in the vertical game and on comeback routes. Mims is a mature player that can certainly be a tough matchup for any cornerback one-on-one, especially on the boundary.
Mims could to be another option for the Patriots to take in the middle rounds that can be a help to the position right away and mature into a solid WR2/WR3.