The New England Patriots have had an interesting relationship with the wide receiver market this offseason. At season’s end, it was clear that the group New England trotted out onto the field for their wild card matchup against the Buffalo Bills wouldn’t be enough moving forward. They were slow starting in free agency, losing not just a depth receiver, but their former All-Pro return man Gunner Olszewski, before making what many would consider a big time splash.
This past week the Patriots traded with a division rival in the Miami Dolphins, for DeVante Parker, a player that many believe fills their top need at the position.
So, with three weeks remaining until the draft, the Patriots have opened up their options quite a bit. Parker and Nelson Agholor project as options at the ‘x’ spot within the offense, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne will spend significant time in the slot and any of those four men can spend time as a ‘z’ option if needed. So, instead of pressing for one of those big bodied number one receivers like many thought they would, the Patriots can take a step back and focus on value at that position. In this man, they can do that while also addressing a significant special teams need following the departure of Olszewski.
Name: Britain Covey
Position: Wide Receiver
School: Utah (RS-Senior)
Opening day age: 25
2021 stats: 14 games, 52 receptions, 514 yards, 3 touchdowns; 29 punt returns, 427 punt return yards, 2 punt return touchdowns; 12 kick returns, 360 kick return yards, 1 kick return touchdown
Size: 5’8”, 170lbs
Expected round: 7th/UDFA
2022 #Patriots Draft Target Thread— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 7, 2022
WR/PR/KR Britain Covey
(5’8” - 170lbs)
We’re talking UDFA’s baybee. Not just any undrafted free agent, but an undersized, 25 year old return man who will be a major project at the next level. Why not? pic.twitter.com/kEs5IlJQrd
Strengths: Above all else, the things that you see in Covey are his vision and acceleration. Vision is of great importance to Covey’s game as the majority of his value comes in returning kicks. Not only do his eyes allow him to make the right reads on returns but it helps him escape those big hits that we have become accustomed to seeing Gunner Olszewski take over the past three seasons. Given his stature it’s fairly obvious that he’s a slot-only player, so most of the touches he gets on offense are within five yards of the line of scrimmage. That vision comes into play again there as he’s been consistent in picking up yards after the catch.
Covey is a high quality return man. Over the past two seasons he averaged more than 15 yards per punt return and has taken four to the house in his career. He also had this beauty of a kick return against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. pic.twitter.com/sGiBw6tHwN— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 7, 2022
The other strong aspects of the game that allow him to be effective at picking up yards with the ball in his hands are his acceleration and short area quickness. Covey’s 1.54 10-yard split would have placed him within the top ten wide receivers at this year’s NFL Combine. His 4.09 short shuttle would have been the fourth best of any player at the Combine. It’s not often that you can find a player to put both of these things together, it’s even less often that you find a player who puts together times like that and backs it up on tape.
The man has legit NFL acceleration and I think he’ll be a blast to watch during training camp no matter where he ends up. pic.twitter.com/CjuW5gmSPn— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 7, 2022
Weaknesses: Lack of size and all the things that come with it.
At 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, Britain Covey is about as small a wide receiver prospect that you will see. As mentioned above, that means that the best case scenario for him as a pro is to become a role specific player who makes his bones in the slot and as a return man. For him, there is no more than that.
Of course, strength and durability concerns follow when you’re talking about a lack of size. That much is true, but the greatest concern for me regarding Covey is the lack of growth. Covey will make plays, but he’ll never become a dynamic player on offense and he’ll never command the attention of those number one corners on the other side of the ball. He is who he is.
What would be his role? In a nutshell, he’s a return man. He’s a better punt returner than he is a kick returner, but he can get the job done at both spots. With the Pittsburgh Steelers snatching up Gunner Olszewski, there’s an opportunity here to replace him with a very similar returner who has a better athletic makeup and can contribute on offense if need be.
Does he have positional versatility? He literally can play three different positions so I’m not allowed to say no, despite the fact that I want to. As a wide receiver, Britain Covey will never play serious snaps anywhere outside of the slot, but, he can return punts and kicks he technically does have positional versatility.
Who’s his competition? I’m not sure if there is any serious competition for the Patriots’ punt and kick return roles. Jakobi Meyers, Jabrill Peppers, N’Keal Harry, and Kyle Dugger are all options to return punts. J.J. Taylor has returned kicks in the past. Since I’m being picky, none of these players are “serious” enough to be considered competition for a proven return man.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots currently roster a few players with return experience, but the best way to prevent a dropoff in production is to replace Olszewski with a true return man. That is exactly what Covey is, a true return man.
Why not the Patriots? New England has an opportunity to basically add a roster spot now that Olszewski is gone. There are offensive and defensive contributors on the roster that can fill in to return and do a fine job.
Verdict: Signing an undrafted free agent does not guarantee them a roster spot. If you like a UDFA, there is no reason not to try and add them. Yes.