With Rob Gronkowski retired, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson gone, and other lingering question marks at wide receiver and tight end, it appears likely the Patriots will take at least one pass-catcher in the NFL Draft.
The Patriots hosted several players in Foxborough this week, some of them fresh out of college and others very familiar faces. The pass-catchers include veteran Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, Noah Fant, Jace Sternberger, and Jalen Hurd. They also brought in quarterbacks Will Grier and Daniel Jones, along with longtime running back T.J. Yeldon.
The Patriots had longtime Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas and former Jaguars RB T.J. Yeldon in for a free agent visit today, per source. They continue to look for more offensive weapons.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 10, 2019
The #Patriots have another group of draft prospects visiting today — a list that includes Ole Miss WR A.J. Brown, South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel and Iowa TE Noah Fant, sources say. Weapons coming for Tom Brady?
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 11, 2019
New England is also reportedly scheduled to host receivers N’Keal Harry and Miles Bowkin. Each team is allowed 30 prospect visits leading up to the draft.
The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin explains that just because the Patriots bring in these players, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll draft them. Even so, the meetings and discussions serve a purpose, he writes.
“The visits are still valuable whether or not the Patriots draft these players,” Volin said. “The team uses the information when game-planning in the fall, and again down the line when the players become free agents or available via trade.”
Thomas, who reportedly visited the Patriots on Wednesday, is the biggest name on the list. The 31-year-old is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, and he’s on schedule to be back sooner than expected, according to NFL Network’s James Palmer.
He reeled in 23 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns with the Houston Texans last year, and he’s most known for his days with the Denver Broncos, when he racked up 1,000-plus yards in five straight seasons from 2012 to 2016. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was the head coach in Denver when the Broncos drafted Thomas in 2010.
The other veteran on the list is Yeldon, who also reported to Foxborough on Wednesday. There’s no guarantee he’d make the roster, with a loaded backfield that features Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White and Brandon Bolden, but he does have 30 games of starting experience.
Yeldon, who was a second-round pick in 2015, caught 55 passes for 487 yards and four touchdowns for the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. He also rushed for 740 yards his rookie year, and he’s only fumbled five times in four seasons.
The South Carolina product Samuel, meanwhile, clearly thought his visit went well. On Instagram, he said: “Hey Billy, I’ll see you in a month, my man,” boldly referring to coach Bill Belichick by a moniker few choose to use.
“I thought he was like a real, real serious coach, like don’t smile a lot,” the rising rookie Samuel told Path to the Draft, “but, when I met him, he was laughing and gave me a little smile. We had a good conversation.”
Interesting approach from South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel. After his visit with Patriots, he posted to Instagram saying, “Hey Billy. I’ll see you in a month, my man.” pic.twitter.com/e7EgDOAkDc
— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) April 13, 2019
Samuel scored 28 touchdowns on only 217 college touches – 16 TDs as a receiver, seven as a runner, four on kickoff returns, one on a fumble return after a muffed punt – and he also threw two as a passer.
“He’s an extremely Patriots-ish prospect in many ways,” Yahoo Sports reporter Eric Edholm wrote.
Another “Patriots-ish prospect” is Jalen Hurd, a 23-year-old who started as a running back at Tennessee but transferred to Baylor to play wide receiver. He sat out the 2017 season, then returned to action in 2018 to rack up 946 yards on 69 catches along with seven total touchdowns.
Hurd is 6’5, 225 pounds, and he posted an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.47 seconds. He’s not projected to go until at least the second, or maybe third, day of the draft.
Brown, who played his college ball at Mississippi, checks in as a 6-foot, 226-pound wide receiver. The third-team All-American selection reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds, bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times, and had a 36.5-inch vertical leap.
The Boston Globe’s Nora Princiotti reported that the Patriots could be in the mix for the tight end Fant with the No. 32 overall selection. Princiotti said Fant’s college teammate, T.J. Hockenson, is considered the more complete player, but the Patriots might ultimately have a more realistic shot at landing Fant.
At 6’4, 250 pounds, Fant is an elite athlete with great speed. He ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at the combine, which was the best among tight ends, and he finished with 39 receptions for 519 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns this past season.
“With Fant’s combination of physical traits being rare, he’s the type of player who needs to go to the right team and, if he does, can excel,” Princiotti wrote.
Sternberger is a 6’4 tight end from Texas A&M who hauled in 10 touchdowns in 2018. He played a major role in the Aggies’ wild, 74-72, double overtime win over LSU, scoring two touchdowns – including one in the sixth overtime.
Harry is a standout from Arizona State who was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference first team as a wide receiver. Boykin, who attended Notre Dame, won the state Player of the Year award in Illinois in high school. He changed his jersey number to 81 in high school to honor his brother, George, who had to stop playing due to an injury.
Grier, a quarterback from West Virginia, was in the Heisman Trophy conversation most of his senior year. He finished among the national leaders in pass efficiency (175.5), touchdown passes (37), passing yards (3,864), and completion percentage (67.0).
Jones starred at Duke, starting 11 games and completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,674 yards and 22 touchdowns. He played for David Cutcliffe, who was Peyton Manning’s quarterbacks coach at Tennessee and Eli Manning’s head coach at Ole Miss.
The NFL Draft spans from Thursday, April 25, through Saturday, April 27. The Patriots have 12 picks, including several on the final day:
- One in the first round – 32nd overall
- Two in the second – 56th and 64th
- Three in the third – 73rd, 97th, 101st
- One in the fourth – 134th
- One in the sixth – 205th
- Four in the seventh – 239th, 243rd, 246th, 252nd