Patriots

Full Nelson? A look at wide receiver options remaining for Patriots after first wave of free agency

Full Nelson? A look at wide receiver options remaining for Patriots after first wave of free agency

The Patriots haven't landed a go-to receiver in free agency yet. They added Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris last week. They re-signed Phillip Dorsett. Maybe they're done. Maybe not. Maybe they'd rather execute a trade or dip into the draft at this position. 

There are still opportunities for the team to pick up a free-agent pass-catcher you've heard of before, though.

None of the receivers remaining may be at the same level talent-wise as Golden Tate, Adam Humphries, Jamison Crowder or Cole Beasley. But there are a few who may provide Bill Belichick's receiver room another level of depth. Below we lay out some of the bigger names available, their ages, and a stat that might indicate how they could provide the Patriots some value. All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.

Randall Cobb, 28, 87.9 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018
(Update: Cobb has reportedly signed a one-year deal with Dallas)
Cobb has dealt with injuries in recent seasons, but he understands leverage and knows how to operate among the safeties and linebackers who occupy the middle of the field. He's also accustomed to working with a demanding quarterback, which might make a potential transition to New England a little smoother than it would be for others. Cobb likely won't command as much as other slots have this offseason considering he played in just nine games last season. Spotrac has his market value estimated at two years and about $8 million per year. Cobb will be 29 when the 2019 season begins.

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Jordy Nelson, 33, 100.9 rating when targeted in 2018
Nelson makes sense on a few different fronts, despite the fact he'd be among the oldest players on the Patriots roster. Like Cobb, he understands what it's like to play with a meticulous quarterback. Like Cobb, he has some slot experience, though not nearly as much. Last season, just over a third of his snaps (34.3) were run from the inside. That versatility, though, would suit Nelson in New England. Nelson's next team might also be intrigued by his production in a below-average offense. His 100.9 rating when targeted placed him ahead of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Evans and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Signing Nelson would not count against New England's compensatory-pick formula since he was released by Oakland. He'll be 34 when the season begins.

Jermaine Kearse, 29, 1.79 yards per slot route run in 2017
The former Seahawks and Jets wideout is two years removed from a career year in which he had 65 grabs on 102 targets for 810 yards and five touchdowns. His 1.79 yards per route run from the slot that season put him ahead of Doug Baldwin, Jarvis Landry, Tyler Locket, Emmanuel Sanders and Crowder. Can he still hit that level? Kearse's pace slowed significantly last year, as he caught 37 passes for 371 yards with rookie Sam Darnold behind center in New York. In five career games against the Patriots, Kearse has 20 catches for 275 yards, including a 45-yard effort for Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. He played 77.5 percent of his snaps in the slot in 2018.

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Robby Anderson, 25, 16.5 average air yards per target in 2018
Anderson (6-3, 190) doesn't fit the profile of the types of receivers the Patriots have been after. He's not immune to slot work, but he saw just under 24 percent of his snaps come from the inside last season. He's more of a classic deep threat, as his 16.5 average air yards per target -- third in the league, per Next Gen Stats -- would indicate. The Patriots could benefit from that type of "X" receiver presence, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Josh Gordon's availability for next season. Anderson is a restricted free agent and has been given a second-round tender so not only would the Patriots need to give Anderson a contract, but they'd also have to relinquish a second-rounder. That might be a price to steep to pay, especially for someone who is just over a year removed from a high-profile arrest. Anderson will be 26 when the season begins. 

Pierre Garcon, 32, No. 19 receiver by PFF grade in 2017
This would be a lightning-in-a-bottle signing if it ever came to be. Garcon will be 33 when the 2019 season begins. He's played eight games in each of the last two seasons and 809 snaps total. He's had lingering knee issues, and he had to have arthroscopic knee surgery in December. In 2017, before his season was cut short, he hit a 1.79 yards per route run mark, placing him just ahead of then-Patriots wideout Brandin Cooks (1.78). If there's any chance he could get back to where he was before getting injured that season, he'd give the Patriots a boundary presence should Gordon be unavailable. 

Michael Crabtree, 31, 11.2 yards per catch in 2018
Hard to know where Crabtree's game is at given the situation he found himself in last year. He graded out as one of the worst receivers in the league among regulars, according to PFF, but when he caught passes, they usually resulted in chunks of yardage. That's saying something considering Baltimore's offense. His 13.2 percent of snaps in the slot last season won't put him on many radars for those looking for quick-hitting options, and there's not much about his recent past that screams he's deserving of a shot in New England. He did "squash" his beef with Aqib Talib, though, reportedly. At a go-kart track. So there's that.

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Lombardi doesn't see a 'Day 1 starter' at QB in this draft

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Lombardi doesn't see a 'Day 1 starter' at QB in this draft

If anyone could provide insight into what Bill Belichick and the Patriots might be thinking on the eve of the NFL draft, it's Michael Lombardi. The former Pats staffer and Belichick confidant once dubbed "one of the smartest people I know" by the coach.

Lombardi joined Phil Perry this week on "The Next Pats Podcast" to look ahead to a draft he doesn't seem enamored with - particularly at quarterback for those thinking the heir to Tom Brady might be selected this weekend.

Lombardi was on Belichick's staff the last time that attempt was made - when Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted in 2014.

"Tom has defeated Father Time," Lombardi told Perry. "When we drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014, did anybody think Tom would last another five years?  Anybody who said yes, other than Tom, probably wasn't telling the truth. Tom's just remarkable..."

As for this draft class of QBs, Lombardi said: "I'm not sure there's a quarterback in this draft, [rumored No. 1 pick Kyler] Murray included, who doesn't have some kind of fault in them...I have a hard time looking at this draft and saying [of the QBs] this guy's a Day 1 starter or a Pro Bowl player. "

Lombardi echoed Belichick's comments at the coach's pre-draft meeting with the media about the difficulty involved in evaluating college passers because of the level of competition they're coming from.

"Nobody ever talks about the level of competition and that's really the challenge of evaluating college players," Lombardi said. "When you watch pro players it's easy because they're going against other pro players."

And what might the Pats be looking for tomorrow night with pick No. 32? Lombardi sees them leaning toward defense.

"I think the thing about the Patriots is they realize that they've got to get a good player at 32," he told Perry. "If it's a corner that they like, that can come in and play a role for them this year, I think they could pick the corner. If there happened to be a linebacker or a defensive end that could rush, they can do that. It's going to be what the player's skill set is, what he could do this year and what impact he could utilize within there. You know there's always the chance he [Belichick] could trade down for more second-round picks."

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Julian Edelman recruits Zion Williamson to be new Patriots tight end

Julian Edelman recruits Zion Williamson to be new Patriots tight end

Zion Williamson in all likelihood will be the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, but Julian Edelman still made his best pitch for the Duke standout to join the Patriots instead.

Edelman tweeted out a photoshopped image of Williamson holding up a Patriots jersey with Robert and Jonathan Kraft, and he let the 6-foot-10 18-year-old know about the Pats' open tight end position.

Edelman isn't the only Patriot recruiting athletes from other sports to take Rob Gronkowski's place at tight end. Tom Brady did the same Tuesday night with Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara.

As for how the Patriots are realistically filling Gronk's void, they signed both Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Matt LaCosse in free agency. They also could look to add more depth at the position via the NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday.

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