But other teams have shown an ability to do it, such as the Packers. They’ve taken four receivers in the first three rounds since 2006 — Greg Jennings (’06), James Jones (’07), Jordy Nelson (’08), and Randall Cobb (’11) — and hit big on all of them.
John Dorsey, who ran the Packers’ college scouting before becoming GM of the Chiefs this year, said there isn’t a magic formula.
“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “If you can’t catch the ball, you can’t be productive in the NFL. It’s your ability to run routes, it’s your physical traits of explosion and speed with that combination, and ability to run after the catch. And you factor in the passion for the game. You take the other traits that are unseen.”
It’s those hard-to-quantify traits that have eluded the Patriots, and part of it has to do with Brady and the system. The Patriots use one of the most complicated schemes for a receiver because so much is predicated on post-snap reads and option routes. If a defender plays a certain way — even mid-route — both the receiver and Brady have to read it the same way. How is a rookie, who didn’t have to do anything like that in college, suddenly supposed to be in synch with a future Hall of Famer in his 13th year in the same system?
“It creates a separation between the young player and the rest of the offense,” said a team source. “Some kid from Tennessee, Cordarrelle Patterson, he’s not going to learn Day One of the offense and Brady’s never going to run Day One offense. So, there lies the problem.”
Another problem could be the evaluation. Belichick never has taken a receiver in the first round, and the two he traded up for in the second round — Jackson (’06) and Johnson (’03) — were colossal busts (Belichick went against the consensus of his scouts on Jackson). When former Patriots director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff asked Belichick what he thought about his pending move up 21 spots in exchange for his own first-rounder and an additional four picks (first, second, and two fourths) to pick Alabama receiver Julio Jones, Belichick told Dimitroff he wouldn’t do it, according to “War Room” by Michael Holley. Belichick thought there wasn’t a big difference between Jones and Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Baldwin, who went 26th to former Patriots personnel director Scott Pioli with the Chiefs. Jones has 133 catches for 2,157 yards and 12 touchdowns; Baldwin 41 for 579 and two touchdowns. Of course, Jones had Matt Ryan throwing to him and Baldwin had Matt Cassel.
Perhaps Belichick will rely more on two coaches that have returned to the flock: offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and assistant Brian Daboll. McDaniels drafted starting receivers Demaryius Thomas (first round) and Eric Decker (third) in 2010 with the Broncos. Daboll didn’t have much success finding receivers with the Jets, Browns, Dolphins or Chiefs, but he was against drafting Jackson with the Patriots.
All of the receivers the Patriots have drafted certainly have been talented. But they’re all missing something, and the constant seems to be an inability to learn the playbook and assimilate into the system. That’s something even NFL veterans such as Joey Galloway and Chad Ochocinco failed at. It’s hard not to notice that Branch, the only drafted star, had by far the highest Wonderlic score (26) of the known results for Patriots receivers. It’s an imperfect tool to gauge how someone processes information, but it’s an indicator.
The Patriots certainly can’t rely on watching film to assess how well a receiver can play for them. They put an emphasis on catching and gaining separation. Both are categories that Ochocinco excelled at, even at age 32, when he landed with the Patriots in 2011.
What the Patriots failed to uncover in their research of Ochocinco, was that former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer never knew where Ochocinco was going to end up; he just improvised. But Palmer was smart enough to know Ochocinco would be open, so Palmer stared him down — which led to some errors, more toward the end of their stays in Cincinnati. That stuff does not fly with Brady. At all.
If the Patriots are to add some young talent at receiver this year, after 11 years of striking out, they’re going to have to identify players who think better and faster than they run and catch. That will come from extensive study, testing (teams give their own IQ/aptitude tests), interviews, and board work with the prospects.
“It is a total-package situation,” Dimitroff said. “We watch the film, obviously, evaluate video up and down, we talk to the coaches, assess his intelligence. That’s a big thing as well, but not always the intelligence on paper as it may be his football intelligence, which is something that we’ll all talk about a lot. This is about really taking it all into consideration and watch how he does adjusting on the field. It’s many, many hours of evaluation and discussion.”Continued...