The value of wide receivers in the NFL is at an all-time high. Yet, for what feels like the fifth or sixth straight season, the New England Patriots seem to be undermanned at the position.
While the additions of Juju Smith Schuster and Mike Geisicki, who may take on more of a “big” receiver role, project as small upgrades, New England is still lacking an alpha dawg in its receiver room. Acquiring such a player is no easy task these days as teams must surrender high draft capital and/or significant money.
For the Patriots, pick No. 14 overall in this year’s draft is a high-quality asset. While the overall talent in this year’s wide receiver class is not what it’s been in recent years, New England still will have a chance to add NFL-caliber talent to the roster at the position.
It feels like the Patriots could go any and every route at the receiver position during the draft, so lets explore which players project as the best fits.
Patriots positional draft preview: Quarterback | Running back
The first-round of this year’s NFL Draft will likely see four wide receivers hear their names called. Those four consist of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Zay Flowers, Jordan Addison, and Quentin Johnston.
Quentin Johnson (TCU): Starting with Johnston, as he is the only true X receiver projected to go in the first-round. Johnston is a deep threat that wins with separation, not size despite his 6-foot-3 frame. However, his ability to separate underneath against NFL defenses is a concern. New England has met with the high-upside receiver multiple times throughout the pre-draft process, but his skillset is not one that they’ve been able to develop in the past.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State): If the Patriots plan on adding a receiver in the first round, they may be interested in the JSNs of the world. Smith-Njigba is known for his route-running and elite short-area quickness. He likely will be the first wideout off the board and should be ultra-productive in any offense he is placed into.
Zay Flowers (Boston College): Flowers also falls into the category of Z/slot receivers the Patriots may have more interest in early. His skillset as a three-level threat with elite separating ability is exactly what the Patriots’ current receiver room is lacking. While his 5-foot-9 frame may be concerning, New England has done plenty of homework on him leading up to the draft.
Jordan Addison (USC): After catching 100 balls and 17 touchdowns for Pittsburgh in 2021, Addison took a slight step back for the Trojans last season. Still, he should hear his name called in the first-round but the 14th pick may be too rich after a not-so-great Combine performance.
A pair of Volunteer receivers along the boundary lead us off on Day 2.
Jaylin Hyatt (Tennessee): While the speedster Hyatt shined throughout the 2022 season, there are some question marks about playing through contact and his route tree. With Tyquan Thornton already on the roster, that would feel like a redundant pick for the Patriots.
Cedric Tillman (Tennessee): New England may be more interested in Hyatt’s teammate, Tillman. At 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, he is a big, boundary receiver who has a massive catch radius and thrives on jump balls. He could provide insurance (and competition) for DeVante Parker on the outside while also potentially being his successor in 2024.
Tyler Scott (Cincinnati): The Patriots met with Scott at the NFL Combine. The former Junior Olympic sprinter is extremely explosive and lined up primarily out wide for the Bearcats. He averaged 16.8 yards per catch over the last two seasons as he is capable on winning deep due to his speed.
Michael Wilson (Stanford): New England also met with Wilson recently on a top-30 visit. Wilson showcased his unique blend of size and explosiveness at the Senior Bowl, but struggled staying healthy during his five-year college career. He managed to play just 14 games overall for Stanford over the last three years, including just six games last season.
Keyshone Boutte (LSU): One of the biggest wild cards in this year’s draft is LSU’s Keyshone Boutte. Boutte was once viewed as the best receiver in this year’s class, but then had a down 2022 season which ended with an odd departure from LSU. He has tons of upside and his ability with the ball in his hands has drawn comparisons to Deebo Samuel. Some serious question marks to go along with a poor Combine showing could completely take him off some team’s boards, however.
Marvin Mims (Oklahoma): Mims would be a strong addition to New England’s receiving room due to his speed and ability to play along the boundary and in the slot. Mims is strong against man coverage and has tremendous ability to haul in passes outside of his frame.
Josh Downs (USC): Focusing on more Day 2 slot receivers, Downs has a case for one of the best receivers in this class period. He was super productive during his time at Chapel Hill recording back-to-back seasons with 101 and 94 catches. He’s an elite separator and is one of the best contested catch receivers in this class despite his 5-foot-9 frame. Downs hearing his name called near the end of the first-round is a legit possibility.
If New England is looking for a pure slot receiver and miss out on Downs, Parker Washington (Penn State) fits that mold and has serious YAC ability. He likely go in the third round in a similar range of Xavier Hutchinson (Iowa State), who is more of a big slot such as Jakobi Meyers. Nathaniel “Tank” Dell (Houston) on the other hand is a pure speed slot receiver, but his 5-foot-8, 163 pound frame and poor Combine performance could drop him in the draft.
Day 3 Boundary Receivers
The Patriots got a first-hand look at several potential Day 3 boundary receivers out in Las Vegas at the Shrine Bowl earlier this offseason. Two of those players who should hear their names called on the earlier side of Day 3 include Bryce Ford-Wheaton and A.T. Perry.
Bryce Ford-Wheaton (West Virginia): Ford-Wheaton is a physical specimen, drawing D.K. Metcalf physical comparisons from Shrine Bowl director Eric Galko. At 6-foot-4, 221 pounds he recorded a 4.38-second 40, 6.97-second three-cone, and a 41-inch vertical at the Combine. He has inconsistent tape, but the upside is there. He could take on a limited receiving role this year - with serious special teams time - with hopefully a larger role on deck in 2024.
A.T. Perry (Wake Forest): Perry had elite production for the Demon Deacons the past two seasons, hauling in a combined 152 catches for over 2,300 yards and 26 touchdowns. At 6-foot-3 he ran a 4.47 40-yard dash which could even push him into the late Day Two category.
Other boundary receivers from the Shrine Bowl who are projected to be later Day 3 selections include Justin Shorter (Florida) and Joseph Ngata (Clemson). Jadakis Bonds (Hampton) also impressed out in Las Vegas at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds.
Beyond the Shrine Bowl, New England has always had an epiphany for Senior Bowl players. Ronnie Bell (Michigan), Jayden Reed (Michigan State), and Andrei Iosivas (Princeton) fall into that category. All three players will likely reside on the earlier side of Day 3, while Bell — who clocked a 6.62 second three-cone (97th percentile) and 4.04 short-shuttle (94th) — seems like a boundary/slot option the Patriots could have serious interest in.
Throughout the pre-draft process, New England has also met with Puka Nacua (BYU) and T.J. Luther (Gardner-Webb). They both project as late Day 3/UDFA options.
Day 3 Slot Receivers
Charlie Jones (Purdue): Jones may be the best route runner in this class outside of Smith-Njigba and surprised many by recording a 4.43 second 40-yard dash at the Combine. He has the chance to be a serious steal in or around the fourth round.
Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss): New England held Mingo on a Top-30 visit recently. He has legit 4.46-second speed at 220 pounds and has experience playing both in the slot or outside for the Rebels. He does not have elite separation ability, but can win downfield with his speed or at the catch point.
Rakim Jarrett (Maryland): Jarrett is another intriguing question mark in this draft. He was once a highly-sought after high school recruit, but struggled to consistently produce in Maryland. However, Jarrett is a high-end athlete and has plenty of upside potential in the NFL.
Demario Douglas (Liberty): The Patriots also got a first-hand look at Douglas throughout the Shrine Bowl. The 5-foot-8 slot receiver from Liberty is extremely shifty after the catch, forcing 20 missed tackles last season. He’ll be a potential late Day 3/UDFA option.