Current Situation: Edelman is the hands-down number one guy, playing at the Z spot, N’Keal Harry is set at the X position, and Mohammad Sanu currently mans the slot position. Damiere Byrd provides depth at the Z and X spot, and Jakobi Meyers is a slot and Z backup.
Level of Need: Mid-to-high
SHS Take: While this isn’t the 2000 Rams receiving core, the Pats have some decent talent at receiver. Health is the ultimate X-Factor, as all three starters have serious injury concerns. The Pats could certainly use some more speed and separation at the position, and while I’d love to take one early, this year’s draft is very deep on receivers and I would imagine Belichick feels he can get value in the mid-rounds.
Early Round Fits
Jerry Jeudy – Junior, Alabama, 6’1″, 193 lbs
Jeudy is truly one of the best wide receivers I’ve ever seen come out of college. The guy just doesn’t have any weaknesses. He can run every route and play in any receiver spot. His lateral quickness and route-running abilities are unparalleled. With solid hands, fantastic motor, and legit breakaway speed, Jeudy is a threat to take it to the house on any given play. While he is undoubtedly a home run threat, what I like most about Jeudy is the way he is able to separate from cornerbacks with ease and get open on short and intermediate routes on critical downs. The odds the Pats are able to land Jeudy are slim to none, however with Bill Belichick at the hand, nothing is ever impossible.
Projection: Top 15
NFL Comparison: Odell Beckham Jr.
Henry Ruggs III – Junior, Alabama, 5’11”, 188 lbs
The ultimate game-breaker, Ruggs doesn’t have the stats of a typical top-end receiver due to playing in an absurdly deep Alabama receiving corps, but his talent and ability are astounding. Ruggs has the ability to take a slant or a shallow crosser to the house in an instant with his blazing speed and separation. While he isn’t a physical specimen at just 5’11”, his ability to make plays in space makes him a fantastic weapon to have in any offense. Ruggs will need time to adjust to playing in a pro-style offense, but he can still make plays on jet sweeps, screens, and other simplified offensive plays. The odds are low that Ruggs is there at 23, but if he falls into the late teens or early 20’s, the Pats should see if they can move up the board. It’s also worth noting that the Patriots met with Ruggs at the combine.
Projection: Top 20
NFL Comparison: Tyreek Hill
Justin Jefferson – Junior, LSU, 6’1″, 202 lbs
One of my favorite players in the entire draft, Jefferson is a do-it-all receiver with the ability to make plays from all over the field. Whether it’s lining in the slot, out wide, or in tight, Jefferson can run just about every route in the book. Much like Jerry Jeudy, Jefferson has big-play ability, but also the quickness and agility create separation on quick routes on third down. With great size at 6’1, the Louisiana native also possesses the ability to make plays on balls in the air at a decent clip. When watching his tape, it was easy to see how well he runs the fade route from the slot position. Josh McDaniels would have a field day lining up Jefferson all over the field and getting him the ball with room to run. A legit option at 23, Jefferson would be my ideal pick for the Pats.
Projection: Early-to-Late 20s
NFL Comparison: Adam Thielen
Mid Round Fits
Brandon Aiyuk – Senior, Arizona State, 6’0″, 205 lbs
N’Keal Harry’s former running mate, Aiyuk is a versatile receiver with good, strong hands. Aiyuk is more quick than fast but can beat man coverage with ease and is explosive with the ball in his hands. He lined up all over the field at Arizona State, but I’d project him as a slot or a Z receiver. Despite his reputation as a RAC guy who just catches short passes, Aiyuk has very solid size at 6’0″ and over 200 pounds and has the ability to punish would-be tacklers in the open field. With no second-round pick this year, the Pats would probably need to acquire one to be able to bring Aiyuk to Foxboro, but making draft trades is something Belichick will do early and often, so I’d still keep an eye on Aiyuk come late April.
Projection: Early 2nd to Early 3rd
NFL Comparison: Tyler Boyd
Denzel Mims – Senior, Baylor, 6’3″, 207 lbs
An athletic specimen with elite size and a 40 time under 4.4, Mims fits the mold as you classic outside receiver that can get down the field in a hurry. With the ability to go get the ball in the air and the speed to beat safeties at the second level, Mims brings a lot to the table. The Patriots can always use speed, and while I don’t love Mims as a prospect due to his lack of lateral movement and agility, there could be a fit in New England if the value is there. If Mims works on his quickness and becomes a more refined route runner, he has a chance to be special.
Projection: Early 3rd to Mid 4th
NFL Comparison: Corey Davis
Late Round Fits
K.J. Hill – Redshirt Senior, Ohio State, 6’0″, 196 lbs
The All-Time leading reception leader for the Buckeyes, Hill is as dependable as it gets. While he isn’t the athletic specimen that Jeudy or Mims is, Hill is a cerebral player who knows how to get open. Hill is a quarterback’s best friends as a safety valve, combining vice-grip hands with savvy route running. Hill is at his best in the slot, doing the dirty work as a blocker, running routes over the middle, and finding soft spots in zones. He is a Patriots-type receiver, someone known for their football IQ and playing for a respected coach (and Belichick confidant) in Urban Meyer. The Pats did, of course, meet with Hill at the combine as well. I’d certainly keep an eye on him in the middle rounds as a top target.
Projection: Late 4th to Early 6th
NFL Comparison: Jeremy Kerley
Van Jefferson – Redshirt Senior, Florida/Ole Miss, 6’1″, 200 lbs
Jefferson is one of the best route runners in the draft this year. His footwork and release at the line of scrimmage are big-time strengths. As a 5th year transfer, Jefferson has experience in multiple offenses and should be able to fill a sizeable role immediately. The former Gator works back to the ball consistently and competes his heart out on every play, attributes that are surprisingly lacking across the NFL. His lack of top-end speed limits him to a slot or Z receiver, but those guys are as valuable as ever in today’s NFL. He did, in fact, meet with the Patriots at the combine, so he is certainly on their radar. While he needs to improve his blocking ability if he is to play in the slot, Jefferson can be a solid pro and is a fit for the Pats system.
Projection: Early 4th to Early 5th
NFL Comparison: Danny Amendola
*All stats via NFL.com and Walter Football