After struggling mightily to move the football through the air in 2020, the New England Patriots have done their best to upgrade heading into the new season. Four starter-level players were added in free agency — wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne; tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry — while starting quarterback Cam Newton and receiving back James White were both retained on one-year deals.
Further investments could still come via the draft, though. The Patriots remain in play for a new franchise or at least developmental quarterback, and could also go after some much-needed big-play ability at the wide receiver position. If New England wants to go that second route, Ole Miss wideout Elijah Moore might be an intriguing prospect to consider on Day 2.
Name: Elijah Moore
Position: Wide receiver
School: Ole Miss (Junior)
Opening day age: 21
2020 stats: 8 games (8 starts); 101 targets, 86 catches, 1,193 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns
Size: 5094, 178 lbs, 71 3/4 wingspan, 30 1/8 arm, 9 3/8 hand
Workout numbers: 4.35 40-yard dash, 36 vertical, 10’1” broad jump, 4.00 short shuttle, 6.67 3-cone drill, 17 bench press
Expected round: 2nd
Patriots pre-draft meeting: N/A
Strengths: Moore has some intriguing speed to work with, running the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds and the 3-cone drill in 6.67 seconds at his Pro Day. He has some good explosion and agility and can execute cuts without losing too much speed in the process — making him a dangerous player on double-moves or concepts designed to get the ball out fast. In general, Moore is a very advanced route runner and able to quickly and precisely get into his patterns.
Moore also possesses a reliable set of hands — he dropped just two passes on 101 targets in 2020 — and has proven himself capable of catching the football away from the body and gaining yards after the catch. He does not shy away from contact while his compact build and agility allow him to pile up extra yardage on screen plays or designed runs. While primarily used in the slot, his speed also makes him a candidate to see snaps in a Z-receiver role and as a deep-field target on the perimeter.
Weaknesses: While Moore runs some good-looking routes, his route tree in general was rather limited in college as part of Ole Miss’ scheme: while he performed them well he was primarily employed on vertical concepts, slant routes and schemed plays that meant to get him open down the field. Moore will have to learn how to get open by himself, especially when faced with on-man press coverage at the line of scrimmage — something he rarely saw over the last three seasons.
Moore is also on the smaller side for wide receivers and might lack the necessary length to come away with the ball in contested situations down the field. His combination of size and strength also could be an issue in the running game, with his blocking a work in progress.
Why the Patriots? With Julian Edelman riding off into the sunset, the Patriots are in need of a new reliable wide receiver presence. While Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers could fill that role and align in the slot as well, they are both better suited as Z-receivers in New England’s scheme. Moore, on the other hand, would be a perfect fit for that slot role: he is a smart receiver capable of executing his routes at a high and consistent level. On top of it all, his speed and agility makes him a big-play threat the unit was lacking in 2020 and for most of 2019 as well.
Why not the Patriots? Moore has proven himself a productive receiver at Ole Miss but New England might prefer to go with a pass catcher who has a more flexible skill set. He is primarily a slot receiver, after all, and his lack of experience against press-man makes him a tough projection at the pro level — despite his NFL-caliber athletic measurements. There also is a chance that the Patriots are happy with their current wide receiver room after adding Agholor and Bourne in free agency.
What would be his role in New England in 2021? Based on his college role it would not be a surprise if the Patriots used Moore as a rotational slot option in 2021. While he would likely not be given a full-time starting role just yet unless he a) quickly grows his route tree in New England’s challenging scheme and b) becomes a better blocker in the running game, he would be projected to see regular snaps in three- and four-receiver packages.
What would be his role in New England beyond 2021? By 2022, Moore should ideally be able to run a full route tree in the Patriots’ offense and contribute on an every-play basis from the slot. Essentially taking over the Julian Edelman role as the team’s primary interior target, he would become a staple of two- and three-receiver sets and go-to guy for whoever the next long-term quarterback will be.
Does he have positional versatility? Moore is a weapon with the ball in his hands, and should be used in a variety of ways — from his slot role, to getting the ball on jet sweeps, end-arounds or reverses, to possibly lining up in the backfield. As a pure wide receiver, however, he is somewhat limited entering the NFL: he aligned in the slot on almost 90 percent of his snaps in three years at Ole Miss, while his size and length could be an issue in another role at the next level.
What is his special teams value? While his opportunities decreased as his role on offense grew, Moore does bring experience as both a punt and a kickoff returner to the table. In total, he ran back 27 punts for 133 yards in college as well as 12 kickoffs for 222 yards. His speed could make him a dangerous weapon in the return game if a team chooses to use him that way.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Moore would not have to worry about making the roster in 2021 due to his projected status as a Day 2 selection, but he would compete for playing time against the interior receivers on New England’s current pay roll: Z-options Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and Isaiah Zuber as well as slot receiver Gunner Olszewski.
Verdict: Moore may not be the perfect wide receiver prospect due to his limited length and inexperience playing outside the slot, but he does have some impressive tools to work with. If New England feels it needs to add more big-play potential to its offense following the acquisitions of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency, using a second-round selection on the 21-year-old might be a solid plan.