Patriots

Who the Patriots should consider at wide receiver in this year’s NFL Draft

The Patriots figure to be undergoing a makeover of their wide receiver corps over the next couple of years.

Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (4) runs after a reception against Michigan during the first half of the Citrus Bowl. AP

COMMENTARY

The Patriots figure to be undergoing a makeover of their wide receiver corps over the next couple of years. Julian Edelman will be 33 soon, Mohamed Sanu is 30, and N’Keal Harry is an unproven second-year wide receiver who has talent, but needs to prove that he can stay on the field.

With some question marks at the position past the 2020 season for New England, it would make sense for the team to continue to add some more young talent there in this year’s draft. Luckily for the team, this is a potentially historic wide receiver class in terms of the abundance of talent available, not only in the beginning of the draft, but toward the back end too.

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New England has the luxury of being able to snag an elite wide receiver early on, or address needs at other positions first, and still be able to draft a talented wide receiver that likely wouldn’t be there in other years.

Here are some receivers that would make sense for the team to consider in this year’s NFL Draft.

CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma

Height/weight: 6-feet-2-inches, 189 pounds

The top wide receiver on most draft boards due to his blend of size, speed, and skill, Lamb is in the mold of a DeAndre Hopkins/Mike Evans, an outside receiver who is capable of making plays for his team from anywhere on the field.

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What makes Lamb stick out especially is his elite ball skills. He can pluck the ball from anywhere and has incredible hand strength in being able to wrestle the ball away from competing defensive backs. His physical nature allows him to win most battles with cornerbacks, and his impressive body control means he is always a threat to catch any ball that is in his area code.

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Coming from the pass-happy Big 12, Lamb will need to adjust to beating press coverage more consistently in the NFL, where corners are more physical and have the athleticism to match him. But he has the tools to quickly turn into a game-breaking No. 1 wide receiver in an NFL offense.

Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

Height/weight: 6-feet-1-inch, 192 pounds

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The most polished wide receiver in this year’s class, Jeudy is masterful in his route running, and combines precision footwork and mechanics with dynamic athleticism to make him a threat to break open a big play at any moment.

Jeudy has a diverse route tree, and has the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. With his big play ability, Jeudy is an offensive coordinator’s dream, and will be able to slide into his new team’s offense quickly.

At just 192 pounds, Jeudy has a smaller frame that will likely lead to struggles against bigger cornerbacks. He also has issues with occasional drops on contested throws or throws to the middle of the field. Jeudy is more of a finesse player at this stage, and adding some weight and learning to take a hit will help him develop into the total package in the NFL.

Henry Ruggs III, Alabama

Height/weight: 6-feet, 190 pounds

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Ruggs III combined with Jeudy to form the most potent 1-2 punch at the wide receiver position in college football the last couple years. While Ruggs III isn’t as polished in his route running as Jeudy, he has superior speed, running a 4.27 40-yard dash at the combine, besting Jeudy’s 4.46 time.

While not as much of a technician as Jeudy, Ruggs III is the more physical player, and uses his blazing speed to his advantage after the catch, regularly outrunning defenders in coverage.

Because his route tree is less complete than Jeudy’s, Ruggs III may require a creative offensive mind who can manufacture offensive touches for him on designed plays early on in his career. With his aggressive style of play and his pure speed, Ruggs III can develop in to a borderline No. 1 wide receiver with time, and has the floor of a play-making receiver who excels in the open-field with the ball in his hands.

Justin Jefferson, LSU

Height/weight: 6-feet-3-inches, 192 pounds

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Joe Burrow’s favorite target at LSU, Jefferson is a smooth and crafty route runner who knows how to set up his defender to his advantage. A good but not great athlete, Jefferson’s ability to play out wide or in close makes him a versatile option for NFL offenses.

Widely projected to be picked by the Eagles at pick No. 21, Jefferson would make a lot of sense for New England at No. 23, if he makes it there, due to his route-running and separation ability. In an offense that asks its wide receivers to run a high number of option routes, Jefferson’s versatility and high football IQ would make him an ideal fit as a Patriot.

Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State

Height/weight: 6-feet, 201 pounds

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Aiyuk’s game-breaking speed stands out immediately when you pop in his tape. A former teammate of N’Keal Harry’s at Arizona State, Aiyuk has good size and elite play-making ability, and is more of a quick-twitch athlete than his former Sun Devil teammate.

Aiyuk is a slippery player to bring down, and a dynamic receiver when the ball is in his hands. While he excels in space, he does have issues at times in contested situations, and will need to learn how to beat press coverage in the NFL.

At 201 pounds, Aiyuk would benefit from adding on another 10 pounds or so to be able to preserve his body through the grind of a full NFL season. But his play-making ability is undeniable, and his speed would bring a new element to a New England offense that needs more playmakers at its skill positions.

KJ Hamler, Penn State

Height/weight: 5-feet-9-inches, 176 pounds

If you’re a defensive back, you might not want to blink when KJ Hamler is on the field, because he will run right by you in a flash. The former Nittany Lion is lightning-quick, and makes defenders’ pursuit angles look silly with regularity. His sudden and blazing speed elicits comparisons to Tyreek Hill, and his ability to return kicks and punts would be an added bonus for a Patriots team that could use a boost in that department.

There is no question about Hamler’s speed and agility, but his small frame raises concerns about his ability to preserve his body at the next level. In addition to the lack of size, Hamler has a small catch radius, and is not a natural pass-catcher. Hamler will likely need plays designed specifically for him, and whatever team drafts him will need to have a very defined role in mind for him when they do, in order to maximize what he does best.

Jalen Reagor, TCU

Height/weight: 5-feet-11-inches, 195 pounds

Another speedy receiver, Reagor is an athletic player with some wiggle to his game, making an impact both on offense and in the return game. He’s a devastating vertical receiver who suffered from poor quarterback play in 2019, leading to diminished productivity.

While just 5-feet-11-inches tall, Reagor has great body control and his ability to high point the ball consistently on throws down the field is impressive for someone who is not your typical outside receiver.

At the next level, Reagor will need to learn better detail and nuance in the routes he has experience running, and will also need to continue to fill out his route tree in the NFL. For his size, he should have more experience operating in the short-to-intermediate parts of the field, but typically runs vertical routes instead that utilize his elite straight-line speed.

His lack of physicality makes him a liability as a blocker on run plays, and coupled with his vanilla route package, could limit his on-field impact if he does not expand his skill set.

Laviska Shenault, Colorado

Height/weight: 6-feet-2-inches, 220 pounds

If not for injury concerns and some issues with drops, Shenault would be a top-5 wide receiver for me. Shenault is one of the most versatile offensive prospects in this year’s draft, having taken snaps as an outside receiver, slot receiver, H-back, tight end, and wildcat quarterback at various points in his career.

Shenault has elite physical tools that allow him to successfully execute these roles for his team, and can win matchups on the outside with his athleticism. He is a prototypical X receiver in the NFL who can operate in all three levels of the field with his blend of size, speed, and strength.

The biggest red flag for Shenault is his injury history. Shenault has had durability issues in college, battling a turf toe injury and undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his senior season alone. He also underwent surgery after the draft combine in March to fix a core muscle injury.

In addition to his checkered medical history, Shenault also needs to become a more precise route runner. His sense of angles and route direction is shaky at times, and can lead to issues gaining separation. Veteran corners will expose his lack of technique in the NFL until he tightens things up.

If he can answer his durability concerns, and continue to learn the finer points of his position, Shenault can be a versatile No. 2 receiver at the next level.

Tee Higgins, Clemson

Height/weight: 6-feet-4-inches, 215 pounds

A physically-imposing receiver, Higgins has a chance to be the best receiver in this class with his insane catch radius, ball skills, and body control.

Higgins gives Lamb a run for his money as the receiver with the best ball-catching skills in this year’s class. His ability to high-point the ball and use his body to shield opponents from it is elite. His catch radius and body control allow him to catch the ball in any position. Higgins is advanced in using his foot speed to defeat press coverage off the line, and does well in creating separation from defensive backs at the top of his route.

Higgins has plenty of big-game experience at Clemson, having played in two College Football Playoff championships and winning one of them, and brings experience and poise with him to the NFL.

What keeps Higgins from joining that elite tier of receivers in this draft class is his lack of top-flight speed and his tendency to shrink against more physical players. Higgins lacks that second gear that will help him beat cornerbacks at the next level, and tends to turn into a finesse player when going up against aggressive defenders, which is frustrating to see because of his superior size and strength when going up against most players in college.

Higgins has as much potential as anyone in this draft, but also has some flaws that will help others leapfrog him. If he can answer those questions, the team that drafts him will be getting a star.

Denzel Mims, Baylor

Height/weight: 6-feet-3-inches, 206 pounds

Mims is a vertical receiver with a limited route tree who is really good at what he does, however limited that is. At 6-foot-3, Mims uses his length to make contested catches with ease, and is a big time player when the ball is in the air in one-on-one situations. His ability to track the ball and adjust mid-flight is elite, and will make him an immediate red-zone threat from Day 1 as a rookie.

Mims saw his stock explode with a very impressive performance at the Senior Bowl, and has a lot of potential because of his speed and ability to win in contested situations. He ran a 4.38 at the combine, and has a background as a track athlete in high school.

While his route running and release need work, Mims has a ton of potential, and could turn into a bona fide wide receiver with a couple of years of development.

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