The New England Patriots’ struggle of drafting wide receivers is well documented. Just ask Fox Sports and their rude graphics department:
In fact, since Bill Belichick’s first year in 2000, the Patriots have drafted only one 1,000-yard receiver in Julian Edelman — and that guy played quarterback in college!
That is not to say they haven’t had a few hits. Deion Branch was great in his time as a Patriot... OK they’ve hit twice.
So what do Branch and Edelman, the only two Patriots draft picks at receiver that have worked in the past 20 years, have in common? Both dominated in the slot, becoming Tom Brady’s security blankets during their time in New England. They possess a similar build, standing less than 6-foot-0 and weighing around 200 pounds. Most importantly, both elevated the play of receivers around them with their consistency and work to become number one options while spending the bulk of their time in the middle of the field.
Luckily for the Patriots, there is a receiver in this draft that fits the same description of Branch and Edelman before him, possessing similar size, comparable play style, and the same exact on field mentality that made those two so special, and his name is Dazz Newsome.
Name: Dazz Newsome
Position: Wide Receiver
School: UNC (Senior)
Opening day age: 22
2019 stats: 12 games; 54 catches, 684 yards, 7 total touchdowns.
Size: 5’11”, 190 lbs
Expected round: 3rd/4th
#Patriots Draft Target Thread: WR #5 Dazz Newsome (UNC) 5’11” 190 lbs.— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) February 18, 2021
• Solid slot option.
• Diverse route tree, can work outside of the numbers.
• Wonderful understanding of leverage and the ways in which he can get open. pic.twitter.com/7cIcGvqIKy
Strengths: You’ve got to have a bit of a screw loose to play slot receiver in the NFL. Perhaps the most physically and mentally taxing position in the NFL, the slot is reserved for only the most fearless of football players. Dazz Newsome falls into that category. To summarize, Newsome is a crazy person, in the best possible way.
An example of how good he is against zone coverages. Newsome does a great job of keeping his feet moving and working to a soft zone. Knows when to get a little physical as well. pic.twitter.com/h2neKcxAmd— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) February 18, 2021
In terms of what he can do on the field, Newsome has a pretty diverse route tree, especially for a guy who spent all of his time in the slot. He works best towards the sidelines, showing great footwork and awareness around the boundary. In the middle of the field, he’s very savvy, finding soft spots in zone defenses and knowing when to settle on crossing routes. Off the line you won’t find a wide receiver with better burst and ability to get into his setup moves.
This is just a great route. Newsome (bottom of the screen) sells the over long enough to draw the safety up, it’s just a pitch and catch from there. Great play call as well. pic.twitter.com/ZtxY2DxZIu— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) February 18, 2021
A great hands catcher, Newsome won’t drop the ball much. He sees it into his body, and even when he uses his arms, he keeps the ball out of his chest plate — a little thing that goes a long way.
After the catch, Newsome likes to implore the Edelman strategy of just running as hard as possible until someone is able to take him down. It seems to work for both of them.
Weaknesses: “Dynamic” is a popular buzz word to describe wide receivers, but it doesn’t quite fit with Newsome. He brings zero value outside of the slot and as a punt returner.
Josh McDaniels has been looking for a guy to this for literal years. pic.twitter.com/yBMJoQK1fH— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) February 18, 2021
There have been instances of him needing to physically slow himself down to stay in control on plays; if you find yourself chopping your feet in between the hashes mid -route in the NFL you are going to either get your head taken off or watch the ball sail over it into a defender’s waiting arms. A huge no-no.
Finally, there just isn’t much to improve on. Technically, Newsome is well equipped and shows the nuances needed to be successful at the next level. He’s not going to wake up one day and be bigger, faster, or stronger, though. He’s got to work with what he’s got.
What would be his role? Though Jakobi Meyers played admirably in the slot during Julian Edelman’s absence last season, the Patriots currently don’t have a true slot option outside of a soon-to-be 35-year-old Edelman. Newsome would provide a solid backup option right away with the ability to become the next guy with some time under his belt in the system.
Does he have positional versatility? In a word, no. Dazz Newsome is a slot receiver and has a punt returner background. That is the extent of what he can and will do at the next level.
Who’s his competition? With the lack of talent in the Patriots’ current wide receiver room, the team will likely have an open competition at the position, and the best four will play. Regardless of fit and positional versatility, the team can’t afford to pick and choose, they need to play the guys that are producing. This means Newsome will be competing with whoever else is in that room come training camp.
Why the Patriots? Julian Edelman needs a successor. With only one year left on his current deal, Edelman is coming off three surgeries in five months and a season-ending stint on injured reserve. The writing is on the wall that he will be moving on sooner rather than later. It is now or never if the Patriots want to draft his potential replacement and give them time to work together.
Why not the Patriots? With so many holes to fill on the roster, many have the belief that you should build a defense and buy an offense. Meaning, the Patriots should spend their $60+ million in salary cap space on weapons and a quarterback, while using their draft picks to build up a young, cost-controlled defense.
Verdict: In all honesty, this roster isn’t good enough to use a plan like the one laid out above. The Patriots need to maximize their resources and taking multiple shots at the weakest position group on the team is how you do that. Go get yourself a solid slot guy in the middle rounds Bill Belichick, you deserve it.