There is no way around it: the New England Patriots’ wide receiver position struggled in 2019. Whether it was injuries, inexperience or off-field issues — looking your way, Antonio Brown — the team failed to get consistent production out of the players it brought on board going all the way back to the offseason. Entering 2020, wide receiver therefore is again a need especially after a relatively inactive free agency period.
The current core of former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman is supported by veterans (Mohamed Sanu, Damiere Byrd), players entering their second year in the system (Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski) and former practice squad players (Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross). Adding more athleticism and cheap upside to the table therefore is important, and luckily for New England this year’s draft is considered a deep one at wide receiver.
One potential second-tier option that might be attractive for the Patriots is Baylor’s Denzel Mims. Let’s take a closer look at him.
Name: Denzel Mims
Position: Wide receiver
School: Baylor (senior)
Opening day age: 22
2019 stats: 13 games; 723 snaps; 113 targets, 66 receptions (7 drops); 1,020 receiving yards; 12 receiving touchdowns
Size: 6027, 207 lbs, 9.38 hand size, 33.88 arm length
Workout numbers: 4.38 40-yard dash, 6.66 three-cone, 4.43 short shuttle, 38.5 vertical jump, 1011 broad jump, 16 bench press
Expected round: 2nd
Patriots pre-draft meeting: Scouting combine
Strengths: Mims’ athleticism especially in combination with his size stands out. He has the long speed as well as the short-area quickness to succeed in numerous situations, and is also capable of out-jumping defensive backs. The latter he regularly did at Baylor, which added to the outstanding catch-radius of his: there are few passes that are in his general vicinity that do not end up as receptions. Mims has a natural feel for timing his jumps and boxing out defenders for possession of the ball which makes him a threat on back-shoulder passes or fade routes.
The 22-year old has some smooth hands and knows how to catch the ball with them rather than with his body. In general, he is a natural talent that can serve as a big-play threat at the next level: he knows how to work the perimeter and also how to out-run cornerbacks on deep patterns and cutting routes due to his mobile hips. He also handles press-man coverage well due to his physicality, and is a willing and able blocker in the running game and on passes thrown to other receivers.
Weaknesses: For as high as his ceiling as an outside receiver is, Mims needs some work to develop into an NFL-ready receiver. His route tree, for example, was rather limited at Baylor: he mostly ran short comebacks, slants or vertical routes and needs to get more nuanced in his delivery. His athleticism should help him with that, but he has not been trusted with a more diverse set of routes in college for one reason or the other. He also has to learn how not to telegraph his intentions on both cuts and designed running plays.
He also needs to get more consistent with his releases off the line of scrimmage, oftentimes failing to generate momentum into his routes. Mims also struggled a bit with drops. According to Pro Football Focus’ 2020 Draft Guide, he had 12 of them on 139 catchable passes over the last two seasons for a rate of 12.9%. That said, he has shown time and again that he knows how to adjust to the ball and make tough and contested catches — he simply needs to clean up and stay focused throughout the process
What would be his role? Given his size and impressive athletic profile in combination with his usage in college, Mims projects to serve as a perimeter receiver at the next level capable of playing both the X- and the Z-roles. As such, he would likely be the Patriots’ second outside target behind former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry and allow both Julian Edelman as well as Mohamed Sanu and Jakobi Meyers to play more inside the formation.
How many downs can he play? Getting a smaller role early on in his career might aid his development into an NFL-caliber wide receiver. Accordingly, it would not be a surprise if he was used on a package-specific basis and in obvious passing situations as well as third downs. So while he could theoretically be a three-down contributor on offense, it seems more likely that he will primarily see action on select passing downs — at least in 2020.
What is his special teams value? Like N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers in 2019, Mims projects to have limited special teams value. He could serve as a shifty and big-bodied blocker or up-man on punt return units, but will likely only be used irregularly in this capacity.
Does he have positional versatility? According to Pro Football Focus, Mims was on the field for 723 of Baylor’s offensive snaps in 2019. The vast majority of those came on the outside: he played split out wide on 671 snaps. While he has the size and short-area quickness to switch between the X- and Z-roles, and work both the underneath and deep parts of the field, Mims will likely not offer much from the slot.
Will his role change from Year One to Year Two? The more experience he gets in the Patriots’ system, and the bigger his route tree grows, the more his usage will expand — a development likely to happen between Years One and Two. It would therefore not be a surprise to see Mims take over the number three role alongside Harry and Edelman by 2021, and potentially even develop into a viable second target within the system.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? While his spot on the roster would be etched in stone due to his draft status — Mims is expected to come off the board in the second round — his playing time likely depends on how he performs over the summer and how quickly he can adapt to life in the NFL. His main competition along the way would be veteran Mohamed Sanu, second-year man Jakobi Meyers as well as former practice squad option Quincy Adeboyejo. All three offer similar skillsets and could take playing time away from the rookie with better training camp and preseason performances.
Why the Patriots? While injuries and other issues played its part, New England’s pass catching corps struggled throughout the 2019 season even with Tom Brady at the helm. One of the biggest issues was a lack of athletic playmakers, which is why Mims might be an attractive option for the team: his combination of size and speed makes him a high-upside player that could help take some pressure off N’Keal Harry. While he needs considerable refinement, Mims’ ceiling makes him a player worth adding to New England’s receiving corps on Day Two.
Why not the Patriots? Mims will likely hear his name called early in the second round of this month’s draft, and the Patriots are therefore currently not in a position to pick him: they are slated to draft 23rd overall and then have a 63-pick gap until the late third round. In order to position themselves to get Mims, New England therefore would likely have to trade down from the first round or sacrifice some of its mid-round capital to move up. That alone might not be the only problem though: as noted above, the Baylor product is raw and would likely benefit from a smaller role early on. The Patriots therefore could prefer investing in more polished receiver help.
Verdict: If the Patriots find a way to get a second-round selection in the 40s or 50s, Denzel Mims certainly would be an intriguing target. After all, his elite skillset cannot be taught and it makes him one of the higher-ceiling pass catchers in this year’s draft. His comparatively small route tree and raw technique need to be addressed, but if New England feels confident in its ability to do that it would not be a surprise if the team pulls the trigger on him to add some much-needed athleticism to its wide receiver room.