As the dust settles on the New England Patriots’ initial wave of free agent additions and subtractions, it’s becoming more and more clear that they still have work to do. In terms of glaring needs, the squad is still without a starting guard, and have two tackles that are scheduled to come off the books within the next two years. There are other spots that still need day one upgrades like cornerback, linebacker, and edge rusher. And of course, there is the ever present need for more talent at wide receiver.
Given the sheer amount of holes the Patriots need to fill during the 2022 NFL Draft, we’ve seen that need for a wide receiver fall to the wayside yet again. It looks as though they simply cannot afford the luxury that is gambling on a wide receiver early on.
So let’s think about value, and familiarity, and scheme fit, and chemistry, and the guys that New England historically hits on. Could there be a wide receiver that checks all of those boxes?
Believe it or not there is.
Name: Slade Bolden
Position: Wide Receiver
School: Alabama (RS-Junior)
Opening day age: 23
2021 stats: 15 games, 42 receptions, 408 yards, 3 touchdowns
Size: 5’11”, 193lbs
Expected round: Day 3 (6th/7th)
Strengths: Close your eyes and think of an NFL slot receiver on its most basic level. They’re quick, physical, and they understand leverage. Those are the buzzwords that explain what Slade Bolden does well.
We’ll start with the physical attributes because his short area agility jumps off the page. At his pro day, Bolden ran a 4.03 second short shuttle, and matched it with a 7.01 three-cone. That three-cone time is right about average compared to others at the position, but his short shuttle time would have placed him second amongst all combine participants, regardless of position.
Much of Bolden’s production in college came in the middle of the field. He’s a matchup based player, but he can still hold his own against nickel corners due to his knowledge of leverage. He pushes to the defender, never shying away from contact, and can do damage when he gets even. He’s got just about everything you look for in a guy who runs option routes from the slot.
Weaknesses: Ok, it’s time to talk about the forty. His 4.66 second time was the worst amongst all wide receiver prospects at the combine. He does not have the straight line speed to win vertically. If you draft Bolden, you have to understand just how limited he will be at the next level.
The concerns about where he played are very real for all of the opposite reasons you usually hear. Bolden was surrounded by first round NFL talent in his time at Alabama. He played alongside Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and Jameson Williams. All of those players were or will be drafted in the first round. There were a lot of times where the superstars just ran out routes to open up the middle of the field and Bolden would be forgotten about. NFL teams won’t do that, especially against a wide receiver room like the Patriots’.
What would be his role? Allow me to let Dante Scarnecchia explain.
“We’ve always had that guy, a guy who moved the chains, whether it was Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, when all else failed, he was that guy. But they do not have that guy right now.”
Slot receivers like Bolden serve as security blankets. As much as we all love Jakobi Meyers, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next season and the likelihood of New England paying him feels low. If all goes to plan, Bolden would sit and wait his year before hitting the ground running as Jones’ slot receiver in year two.
Does he have positional versatility? Bolden’s a bit of a one trick pony. He works out of the slot and he does it well. He was surrounded by so much talent at Alabama that they didn’t ask him to do anything but play out of the slot. They were so dynamic that it felt like a waste at times when they’d target him over the likes of DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Jameson Williams, or John Metchie III. It’s hard to see a guy with no experience anywhere but the slot make a change at the NFL level. He is what he is.
Who’s his competition? It’s hard to understand just how the Patriots want to deploy their wide receivers this year. If it’s in a traditional sense where everyone has a role to play, I would imagine Bolden would be stuck behind Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne on the slot depth chart. Year two would be the earliest that i’d expect him to contribute.
Why the Patriots? He played at Alabama, for Nick Saban, with Mac Jones, produced at a high level, enters the league with an understanding of how to do things, and will take little to no draft capital to obtain. Come on now.
Why not the Patriots? Bolden is a project in terms of finding a consistent role. In a league that is ever growing away from the days of rolling out guys who can do just one thing, he’d be a throwback.
Verdict: Please see, “Why the Patriots?”