By Chris Warner
Our series on Patriots positions of need continues with a closer look at wide receivers. There’s a decent lineup of pass-catchers available beginning April 26, but Foxboro needs another pass-catcher like your grandmother needs another antique: only if a great one’s available at a reasonable price.
New England has 10 receivers on their current roster, but only two seem like locks to start (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd). Special teams ace Matthew Slater is a receiver in name only. Last year, punt returner Julian Edelman touched only slightly more pigskin than a PETA volunteer. Veteran signees Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth are great pickups (oh, wait: it’s not 2007?).
Yes, the Patriots could use an injection of productive youth at the position. The question is, where do they look?
New England has two picks in the first round (27 and 31 overall), two in the second (48, 62), one in the third (93) and one in the fourth (126). They have traded away their fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks.
DAY ONE (Round One)
Overview: The position has a couple of standouts in the top rounds and decent depth overall, but an apparent lack of “must-haves” for New England. Considering recent failures with early receiver picks, they have to proceed with caution.
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (6-3, 220). Not a speedster (4.47 40-yard dash), but his build helps him fight for the long ball. Considering the local receiver crew has the physical makeup to audition for the Lollipop Guild, Floyd would add a size dimension quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t seen in years.
It doesn’t hurt that Floyd played for former Irish coach Charlie Weis, a past New England offensive coordinator.
Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech (6-4, 215). Insane athleticism. Just crazy. To wit, a 4.36 40, a 39.5-inch vertical leap, and an 11-foot, one-inch broad jump. Scouts have to wipe off the drool and look at the big picture, mainly that Hill played for a college team that passed as often as Halley’s Comet. Looking back at physical wunderkind and 2006 Pats draftee Chad Jackson demonstrates that mastering New England’s enigmatic O could prove an up-Hill battle.
Right? “Up-Hill?” Anyone?
DAY TWO (Rounds Two and Three)
Overview: The depth begins to show here, with solid physical talent, production and relatively low risk. Probably the ideal day to seek a receiver.
Chris Givens, Wake Forest (5-11, 198). Givens ran a 4.41 40 for scouts after a well-rounded, productive season. He led the Demon Deacons in all-purpose yards and has the quickness to damage defenders in the open field.
A. J. Jenkins, Illinois (6-0, 190). Jenkins covered more grass than a Kansas rainstorm, racking up 90 catches for 1,276 yards (14.2 per). He tested well with a 4.39-second 40 and a 6.73-second 3-cone drill, showing footspeed that will serve him at the next level. Jenkins has been criticized for sloppy route-running and an inability to break free of aggressive coverage.
DAY THREE (Rounds Four through Seven)
Overview: As expected, we find smaller, quicker players or bigger, slower ones after Round Three. Any receiver taken here would have to contribute to special teams. Those players can be found starting early on the last day of the draft.
T. Y. Hilton, Florida International (5-10, 183). Hilton did everything at FIU, making the All-Sun Belt Conference Team as a wide receiver, punt and kick returner. Dynamic in space and possessing breakaway speed (4.37 40), Hilton is hampered in scouts’ minds by his level of competition and a puny bench press (seven reps of 225 pounds) which bodes poorly for his ability to free himself from defensive backs.
Marvin Jones, California (6-2, 199). Jones is a solid athlete (4.46 40) overshadowed by other receivers at Cal. Kudos for his consistency, as he caught at least one pass in 37 straight games over his career. Also returned punts.
UNDRAFTED ROOKIE FREE AGENTS (UDFAs)
Overview: Every year, New England discovers someone overlooked by teams who makes the roster. Receivers prove tougher to find at this juncture than most other positions, but some great athletes and/or high producers can be found.
Michael Calvin, California (6-2, 210). After a mediocre career for the Bears, Calvin got noticed on his school’s pro day with a 4.34-second 40, a 40.5-inch vertical and an 11-foot-1 broad jump. (Seriously, I don’t think I could jump over 40 inches if you gave me a stepladder.)
Last year, Coach Bill Belichick invited Cal grad Jeremy Ross to camp. We envision the coach bringing Calvin in for a closer look.
Elvis Akpla, Montana State (6-0, 184). Akpla made what many consider the Catch of the Year vs. Sam Houston State, a clutch bit of prestidigitation worth a second (and third) look. Not overwhelming in any physical regard, Elvis (yes, we’re calling him by his first name for its sheer awesomeness) is a great example of a small school guy who gets the job done.
Our Call: We’ve made it no secret here at BSMW that we’re hoping for a defensive draft; therefore, picking a receiver – any receiver – before Round Three would disappoint (and, we’d argue, become an unnecessary risk).
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Email Chris Warner at [email protected]