The New England Patriots entered the 2020 NFL draft coming off a disappointing season on the offensive side of the ball, in large part because of the struggles at the wide receiver position. Whether it was injury, inexperience or off-field issues, the Patriots’ pass catchers failed to consistently perform at a high enough level to kickstart a fledgling aerial attack. Luckily for the team, however, the draft provided plenty of quality prospects at the position.
There was only one problem, though: the Patriots did not select even a single wide receiver despite continuously being in a position to do so. New England appeared to have come closest on Day One, but the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to snag Justin Jefferson with the 22nd overall pick prompted Bill Belichick and company to instead trade out of slot No. 23 in order to gain ammunition and flexibility in the early/middle-round area of the draft.
But while this was another sweet spot for potentially addressing the wide receiver position, the Patriots again preferred looking elsewhere for talent. They drafted a safety with the 37th overall pick, for example, and later on Day Two added a pair of outside linebackers as well as two tight ends. The pool of wideout talent remained untouched, in the meantime, despite it being considered one of the deepest and most talented in recent memory.
Why did the Patriots opt to forgo the position over the last three days? Multiple factors are likely in play when it comes to the team’s decision making. One of those, however, could be the projected growth of second-year players in the system: N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers both had their moments in 2019 but struggled with the expected rookie growing pains, while in-season trade addition Mohamed Sanu hurt his ankle not even a month after his promising debut.
All three are in a position to make the famous second-year jump in 2020, and it sounds as if Belichick and the Patriots’ coaching staff are confident that this will happen.
“We’ll see how all that goes,” the future Hall of Famer said on Saturday during a media conference call when asked about his team’s inactivity as it relates to the wide receiver position in the draft. “I’m sure all our young players will improve in Year Two. Spent a first-round pick on N’Keal [Harry] last year, and a second-round pick on [Mohamed] Sanu that was really off this draft. Obviously, we have Julian [Edelman] and a number of other young players.”
“I think that it will be a very good group. There’s a lot of different ways and times to build your team. The draft is one of them. As I mentioned, whether it’s Sanu or free agency signings like [Damiere] Byrd — whatever the case might be — there’s multiple ways to build your roster, and this is one of them,” Belichick added when speaking about the construction and composition of the Patriots’ wide receiver group.
One key element of the growth process that is needed will be rehabilitation. After all, the team’s top-three wide receivers by the end of the 2019 season — Edelman, Sanu and Harry — all struggled with injuries and failed to live up to expectations as a result. Getting them back to full speed, plus integrating younger players such as the aforementioned Jakobi Meyers or fellow second-year man Gunner Olszewksi into the mix could do wonders to the once struggling group.
Belichick sounds confident in the development of the players currently under contract — enough so that he and his team decided to forgo the position in the draft despite plenty of viable options. As a result, and barring any additional moves, the team will head into the summer with N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman as the projected top-two at the position. Mohamed Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, Damire Byrd, Marqise Lee, Gunner Olszewski and former practice squad members Quincy Adeboyejo and Devin Ross, meanwhile, will try to carve out roles alongside them.
That same goes for three of New England’s reported undrafted rookie signings: the Patriots have brought three rookie free agents — Will Hastings (Auburn), Isaiah Zuber (Mississippi State), Sean Riley (Syracuse) — on board after the conclusion of the draft. They too will get a chance to compete for playing time and roster spots, as well a chance to help improve a passing offense that will be led by a new quarterback for the first time in two decades and try to return to form after a disappointing 2019 season.