Current Roster: Wes Welker (Right? Anything less is unthinkable), Brandon Lloyd, Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Anthony Gonzalez, Donte Stallworth, Tiquan Underwood, Britt Davis
Positional Overview: It happens every year in draft season, when people who confuse building a consistent NFL winner with winning their Fantasy league start clamoring for a Wide Receiver in the 1st Round. Never mind the off-the-charts bust rate of wideouts in the draft. Or the way Matt Millen in Detroit kept taking receivers in the Top 10 and it wasn’t just a trainwreck for the Lions, it was a wreck of freight trains carrying nuclear material and hazardous waste. Picking a wide receiver high makes those “Time to renew your season tickets” sales calls go a lot smoother. Because wideouts are high profile and sexy. They get everyone excited, even if they’re expensive, impractical not necessarily conducive to winning. Everyone wants to put a hot tub on the back patio, but no one feels like paying to fix the crack in the foundation that keeps flooding the basement.
And that’s especially true of Patriots fans and the media. No sooner did the season end than talk started of whether they’ll grab a wideout in the 1st Round. Even if it means packaging picks to move up. This from a team whose QB passed Dan Marino’s 27 year old record with 5,200 passing yards. And which had a defense that couldn’t stop opposing passers or get off the field on 3rd down. Somehow both sports radio morning shows in town watched the same Patriots team you and I did and decided their undoing was the passing game. Go figure.
But it’s been like that forever. Only the cliches change. In 1996 it was “Get Bledsoe a weapon,” which they did, and it cost them a Hall of Fame coach. In the late 90s the hue & cry was for “playmakers.” Early 2000s it became “deep threats.” From 04-07 it was “someone who can stretch the field.” Then it was “take the top off the defense.” This year the cliché du jour is “an outside-the-numbers guy.” Again, notwithstanding that Brady had the 2nd most prolific passing year ever.
Not that they couldn’t stand to draft and develop a wideout. Of course they could. They haven’t successfully hit on a WR pick in years. And the ones they currently rely are getting old. It’s just that it’s ridiculous to think it’s a top priority or anything close. Fortunately signing Lloyd, Gonzalez and Stallworth has quieted some of the talk, but still there’s a need for a long term solution at the position. The thing is it’s a tough system to learn and their failure rate is as high as anyone’s so it’s hard as hell to know what their type is. You can look at their current roster and see the need for a complimentary guy with some length and speed, but who can say with certainty? No one ever said being a Patriots Draft Geek would be easy. But this is the business we’ve chosen, Michael. So here goes:
Mortal Lock Top 10 Pick You Should Forget About Right Now Because If You Have to Ask How Many Picks He’d Cost You Can’t Afford Him:
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma St. 6-1, 207, 4.45
Blackmon’s insane production in his final year: 121 catches, 1,522 yards, 18 TD’s, was actually down from 2010 because he faced nothing but double teams all year. Still, he put together a ridiculous streak of 14 straight 100-yard games. Most scouts seem to agree if he’d come out last year they would’ve placed him between AJ Green and Julio Jones. He had problems with his hammy that kept him out of the Combine but any doubts they might have had about his speed were erased at his Pro Day. I can’t see him getting past St Louis at 6, on the logic that the franchise in 1996 “we’ve got to get weapons for Bradford” mode.
Next Tier of Probably 1st Rounders You’d Probably Have to Package Picks to Move Up to Probably Take:
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame. 6-3, 220, 4.47
You look at Floyd’s measurables and it’s easy to wonder why he’s not considered the blue chipper Blackmon is. Wone reason is his lower level of production. Another is that he’s seen not so much as a guy who’ll use speed to gain separation as he is someone who’ll come back on a ball, high-point it or use his size to screen off a defender. A couple of other reasons are his three booze-related offenses and the face that at his interviews he came across as kind of a dink. I know it’s hard to imagine one of the Fighting Irish being involved with drinking or coming off as cocky and arrogant, but in Floyd’s case, it’s happened. Shocking.
Alshon Jeffrey, South Carolina. 6-3, 216, 4.48
The book on Jeffrey is that he might have been a high 1st Rounder, but he left scouts at the Miss Lucas Oil Pageant dumbfounded by the way he came in 20lbs lighter than they expected. And the weight drop affected his 40 time, which was a disappointment. Another knock is that while he burned Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, a likely Top 60 pick, Dennard tackled him from behind, which is not a good sign. (Note: Dennard then started a fight which got them both tossed out of the game. And this week he got arrested for slugging a cop who tried to separate him from another guy in a fight outside a bar. This from a guy who I called “ a respected charactery-type.” Oops.) But Jeffrey was productive in a crappy offense and more than one team will have him in 3-spot on their WR board.
Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech. 6-4, 215, 4.36
Hill is intriguing because his ridiculous 40 time at the Indianapolis Kennel Show and his Pro Day moved him up from the 2nd round to perhaps the 1st. And if there’s a Bedford Falls-like run on the Wideout Bank, maybe out of the Patriots reach altogether. He averaged an unfathomable 29+ yards per catch and comes from the same program as Megatron and Demaryius Thomas, so that shouldn’t help him last to 27 either.
Tall, Rangy, X-Receiver Types They Seem to Be Lacking and They’ve Worked Out:
Rueben Randle, LSU. 6-3, 210, 4.55
Randle is generally projected as a 2nd Rounder. He’s a little bit of a one year wonder. And he saved his worst for when it mattered most, grabbing only 5 passes in 2 games vs Alabama. Still, he’s got long arms, seems to work hard and scouts like the way he uses his body to fend off DB’s and get open. He’s probably best suited to be a possession receiver. More like a poor man’s Hines Ward. And there’s not a hell of a lot of room to move in the Patriots’ slot at the moment.
Tommy Streeter, Miami. 6-5, 219, 4.40
Like Randle, he doesn’t seem like a perfect fit. He’s long-legged and once he gets up a head of steam he can run past people and get separation. But they’ve always been more attracted to the precise, quick-step route-runners who get in and out of breaks efficiently and with fluid motion. Then again, maybe Brandon Meriweather turned me off guys from The U forever. (With apologies to Vince Wilfork.)
Small Program Guy With a Great Receiver Name Who’s Gotten a Lot of Attention from Other Teams:
Brian Quick, Appalachian State. 6-4, 220, 4.55
Quick is a basketball player with the size and jumping ability (34 inch vertical) to be a potentially brutal red zone threat. He’s also… well, quick. If there is a knock on him it’s his level of competition, what with him playing at a school located in back of the kind of Filling Station that a group of young couples ends up when their car breaks down in a horror movie.
Mid-round Guys From Patriots Feeder Programs or Who Were Coached by Twigs Off the Belichick Coaching Tree:
Mohame Sanu, Rutgers. 6-2, 211, 4.67
Sanu has pretty unimpressive straight line speed, but is considered the kind of precision route-runner they’ve built their attack around. He’s also shown sick hands, highlighted by the College GameDay-worthy one-handed touchdown grab he had in his 13-catch, 119-yard game vs UNC. He can line up outside, but has proven he’s good at running slants and in-cuts and will go over the middle.
Marvin McNutt, Iowa. 6-3, 216, 4.54
He was productive: 82 catches, 1,315 yards and 12 TD’s, despite being in a non-productive offense. But he helped his stock quite a bit with a good week at the Senior Bowl and at all the spring Dog & Pony shows. He’d no doubt be ranked higher if he didn’t struggle against NFL caliber competition. Dennard put such a beating on McNutt you would’ve thought he was wearing a badge.
Smaller, Developmental Guy Who Could Contribute at Special Teams Right Away While They Groom Him to Be Welker’s Replacement Someday;
Ty Hilton, Florida International. 5-10, 183, 4.34
Speed like Hilton’s can do two things: 1) Send you back in time to see your parents meet at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, and 2) Bring all 32 NFL teams out to see your Pro Day. Hilton’s did the latter. While he’s got good instincts, he’ll still need time to develop. While he’s a senior, he still lacks experience due to a lot of injuries early on. While he’s got good technique catching the ball, his hands are small. And while he’s a good character guy, he might not be big enough to take the punishment a slot receiver needs to. But on Day 1 in camp he’ll be the best kick returner on most teams, an area of need for New England.
Perfect Patriot: Sanu. I’m just not sure that after signing a designer wideout like Lloyd for an Ocean State Job Lot price, they’ll feel the need to use a moderately high pick to get him.
Whom They’ll Take:
Derek Carrier, Beloit. 6-3, 238, 4.49
Don’t bother checking your draft magazine or “Mike Mayock’s Top 5” or that useless Mel Kiper, Jr Insider mock you paid for. You won’t find Carrier’s name anywhere among them. That’s because he comes from a DIII school in Wisconsin no one’s ever heard of. He had DI talent, but insisted on playing basketball, something few college coaches will allow but Beloit did. He’s also carrying a 3.87 GPA in Pre-med (“I thought you said ‘Pre-law.’” “Same thing.”). Good grades are something the Patriots like in their picks (see Nate Solder), but it’s his other numbers that have teams like the Pats, Denver, Seattle and Jacksonville working him out. Like his Aaron Hernandezish TE/WR hybrid size, his 40 and his astonishing 40 inch vertical. There’s one report making its way around where a scout questioned his toughness for going out of bounds instead of steamrolling a much smaller corner. But that won’t scare the Pats off from making the kind of dreaded 4th or 5th Round (wait for it)…Value Pick… that will drive the “move up and get an elite outside the numbers wideout to stretch the field and take the top off the defense” crowd insane.