The Patriots can stand to improve every part of their receiving corps, both inside and outside, from their 2019 output. Earlier I listed Brandon Aiyuk as an option to improve their receiver room as a Z/slot option, but the odds that New England will land him appear to be very low. If the Patriots want to go value over talent, then they will want to take players with different skillsets. One potential receiver in the draft that the Patriots could take a look at on Day Three is a fifth-year senior from a notable college program.
Name: K.J. Hill
Position: Slot receiver
School: Ohio State
Size: 6’0” 196, 29 1/8” arms, 9 1/8” hands
Week 1 Age: 22 (turns 23 in September)
2019 Stats: 57 catches, 636 yards, 10 TD; 1 rush, 1 yard; 5 punt returns, 38 yards
Workout Numbers: 4.60 40, 32.5” vertical, 9’6” broad jump
Strengths: While not listed as a starter, Hill has multiple years of reliable #3/4 receiver production with Ohio State. As he’s developed in the Buckeyes program for five years, Hill has developed into a very savvy route-runner from the slot. He has an understanding for leverages and which routes beat them, which makes him a natural fit for running option routes in the New England offense. He’s also has reliable hands, if the ball is in the zip code it will be a catch.
Weaknesses: Hill’s skill set is very narrow overall as a receiver and is strictly limited to slot duty. Hill is a great route-runner, but otherwise isn’t an explosive athlete to challenge defenses deep, shake tight press coverage at the route stem, or be utilized in the return game. The Patriots would prefer having slot receivers that can impact at least the punt return game in a positive manner.
Expected Round: 5th
Pre-Draft Meeting: Combine Interview
How many downs can he contribute? It will depend on how often the Patriots would prefer utilizing 11 personnel, so at the minimum I’ll say two downs on offense (second and third down) on average. He’s also going to be a part of the punt returner depth chart (maybe as a second/third option as a guy who’s going to reliably catch the ball and gain a few yards)
Who does he have to beat out? The backend of the Patriots receiver depth chart will include Mohamed Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, and Devin Ross. He will not only be competing with those guys for a roster spot, but also a role in the offense. Sanu and Meyers aren’t pure slot guys, which gives them a leg up on Hill. If the Patriots elect to carry 5 receivers, I think they’ll keep Hill.
2020 Role: Hill would immediately compete for the slot receiver role as a plug-and-play player at the position. He would also be a potential punt return option, although not the team’s preferred option due to average athleticism and run after catch ability.
Long Term Role: He would be the team’s safety valve and primary chain mover from the slot, similar to Wes Welker, and a backup punt returner for the team. If Hill gets a chance to stick, I think he’ll end up being the team’s primary slot receiver in not much time.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots receiving corps could use some dependability to have as a safety valve for Stidham and Hill fits that bill. The two things that stick out are football IQ and route-running savviness, which drew the Patriots’ attention at the combine. Hill would immediately compete for the starting slot receiver role as a rookie and eventually hold it down for years after winning the job. His ability to move the chains is something the Patriots could use to sustain drives while the Patriots deploy N’Keal Harry, James White, and Julian Edelman to finish drives in the end zone.
Why not the Patriots? Hill is a reliable slot receiver prospect, but doesn’t offer much value outside of that position. He gives the team a somewhat sure-handed option as a returner, but isn’t a threat to return it back the other way. The Patriots problems on offense were mostly red zone based, as they didn’t have a guy who could make tight-window catches to turn three-point drives into seven. The Patriots also have some options to employ in the slot already on the roster in Edelman, Sanu, and Meyers so they may be more inclined to look to improve the position at the Z-receiver role.
Verdict: Hill may be one of the better late round values in the draft as this year’s Wes Welker prospect. He’s limited to that role, but would be great at his niche. Hill isn’t explosive enough to feature in the return game, so he has a very narrow path to the roster.