The New England Patriots’ wide receiver situation could best be described as catastrophic.
Their best player at the position, Julian Edelman, is about to be 35, coming off of two knee surgeries in 2020, and may not be back with the team. Their most productive player, Jakobi Meyers, is a former undrafted free agent that has more career touchdown passes (2) than touchdown receptions (0). Former first-round pick N’Keal Harry could be most accurately described as inconsistent and has yet to show anything that would make you believe he should have been selected in Round One. They do have a couple of All-Pro players listed at the position in Gunner Olszewski and Matthew Slater, so maybe it’s not so bad.
Just kidding, it’s THAT bad.
Luckily for the Patriots, they will have plenty of opportunity to upgrade the position. They could go the free agency route, using some of their projected $60 million in salary cap space to nab one of the many top line names like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Curtis Samuel, Will Fuller, and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
They could also dip their toes in the trade waters. Using that cap space to take on a higher salary that could be on the move like Julio Jones is an option, or investing in a receiver that could be looking for an opportunity to expand his role like Michael Gallup.
Or will the Patriots go back to the draft, where they’ve been spurned at the position so many times before? Their history of hiccups early in the draft spans almost two decades with selections like N’Keal Harry, Aaron Dobson, Taylor Price, Chad Jackson, and Bethel Johnson. The last truly successful wide receiver they drafted was Julian Edelman at pick No. 232 back in 2009.
But what if I told you they could draft his heir apparent this April?
Name: Amon-Ra St. Brown
Position: Wide receiver
School: USC (Junior)
Opening day age: 21
2019 stats: 6 games; 41 catches, 478 yards, 7 touchdowns.
Size: 6’1”, 195 lbs
Expected round: Early 2nd
Strengths: Amon-Ra St. Brown is an incredibly smart football player. His knowledge of how to position his body on routes and in his breaks, his understanding of leverage, and the way he can read zones and find ways to exploit them are all far ahead of any other receiver in the 2021 draft.
#Patriots Draft Target Thread: WR #8 Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC) 6’1” 195 lbs.— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) January 22, 2021
• Tough as nails/versatile receiver.
• EXTREMELY smart route runner, understands defenses like a QB.
• Fantastic ball skills and hands. Can and will compete with anyone. pic.twitter.com/YdiD3PAEZN
He’s able to parlay that knowledge of the game with some outstanding physical tools. His ball skills are out of this world when it comes to back-shoulder balls, he’s got a great ability to adjust in the air and his footwork is fantastic. He’s shown the tendency to lead defensive backs the wrong way with his feet and shoulders and break off routes with a sharpness that can’t be caught up to.
His biggest strength, however, is his toughness. There isn’t a player in the draft that can match the toughness in which he plays. He isn’t afraid of anything. He’ll work over the middle, he’ll get after it in the run game, and he’ll go to war for his teammates. St. Brown plays with the ferocity of an undrafted rookie and the skill set of a first-round pick.
St. Brown is another victim of an extremely deep receiving class. He showed a ton of versatility in his time at USC, and that is something the #Patriots desperately need at receiver. Here he is showing off his physicality while playing a little running back. pic.twitter.com/fVxJRqXfab— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) January 22, 2021
Weaknesses: St. Brown is lucky there isn’t a combine this year because it probably would have hurt him. His measurables and numbers would have been underwhelming. He was listed at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds at USC but i’m sure that will change at his pro day, he looks to be an inch or two shorter than that. His 40-yard time won’t be in the top-10 for wide receivers and he doesn’t have the best short area quickness. Success will likely be a result of his understanding of defensive schemes and not because he can outrun a defender.
Another, small, tweak of his game is his limited route tree. He ran a ton of go routes in college from both the slot and outside, he ran slants and flat routes early on and added a lot of drag stuff when USC started running more play action stuff. That is four routes, other top prospects like DeVonta Smith and Ja’Marr Chase can run 10+. Good news, the Patriots rarely ask young guys to do much more than what he’s known for.
What would be his role? Initially, St. Brown would most likely be used in the slot, potentially taking over for Patriots legend Julian Edelman. That was where he spent his first few years at USC. He would provide a more durable option than a 35-year-old Edelman and at the very least be a great insurance policy for him. He and Jakobi Meyers could also share snaps in the slot as that is where the former UDFA played his best football in 2020. N’Keal Harry and potential free agents or other draft picks would look to occupy the third receiver spot.
All I really need to see to solidify my belief that he should be a Patriot is a good 3-cone time. He runs this return route very well. Imagine having this guy learn behind Edelman while also providing depth on the outside early on? pic.twitter.com/XV9vCKkABn— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) January 22, 2021
Does he have positional versatility? St. Brown proved that he can play both in the slot and out wide in 2020, following the departure of Michael Pittman to the NFL. He should have no problem doing both at the next level considering that he is physical enough to play outside the numbers and he’s got a ton of experience in the slot. Given all that, he would likely see the field right away. He also projects to be a pretty good special teamer, both as a gunner and returner, even though the Patriots are all set with punt returners.
During his time at #USC, St. Brown played a variety of roles. He’s a slot receiver but gained some experience outside last season filling in for a departing Michael Pittman. It was a seamless transition. pic.twitter.com/o6bpbp81HA— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) January 22, 2021
Who’s his competition? Well, the easy answer is Julian Edelman. As long as he’s willing and able he will be the man in the slot for New England and we all know he is willing. The question is if he will be able. The amount of surgeries and missed time over the past few years is alarming. The Patriots need a solid backup plan and that would be St. Brown. In terms of seeing the field right away, his competition might not be anyone, he provides similar services to Jakobi Meyers as he can play the slot and “Z.” Allowing them to split reps at each position would do wonders for both of their development, instead of viewing the pair as competition, I would say they’d be companions.
Why the Patriots? The top three wide receivers in the 2021 class are likely to be gone by pick No. 15. That means they are likely to make a pick at a different position or trade back, that leaves them looking for a receiver with their second-round pick, a place St. Brown will most likely still be available. They will certainly add a wide receiver this offseason and St. Brown is looking to be the easiest option to acquire.
Why not the Patriots? Teams LOVE to overdraft quarterbacks and wide receivers. The Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, and Jacksonville Jaguars could all be looking to add wide receivers in April, making it a possibility that St. Brown is gone by the Patriots second round pick. After all, Chris Olave is headed back to school which bumped St. Brown up many draft boards.
Verdict: I think there is potential for Amon-Ra St. Brown to be a very solid player at the next level. He reminds me a lot of former Patriot free agency target Golden Tate. He’s not afraid to get physical with a defensive back or scrap with some linebackers. He’s got a nasty streak to go alongside his tremendous skill. I smell a steal come April.