Patriots

Names to know: Slot receiver options for Patriots if they wait for 2019 NFL draft

Names to know: Slot receiver options for Patriots if they wait for 2019 NFL draft

There's still time for the Patriots to sign a free-agent wideout. There's still time for them to acquire a pass-catcher via trade.

But what if they decide the best way to continue to build depth at the position around Julian Edelman is to dip into the draft?

The Patriots have of course had their share of cracks at rookie receivers, using 16 picks to take wideouts with Bill Belichick at the helm. Most recently, they've used draft choices on Braxton Berrios (sixth round, 2018), Malcolm Mitchell (fourth round, 2016), Devin Lucien (seventh round, 2016), Jeremy Gallon (seventh round, 2014), Aaron Dobson (second round, 2013) and Josh Boyce (fourth round, 2013). 

Dobson, Chad Jackson (2006), Bethel Johnson (2003) and Deion Branch (2002) are the second-round choices Belichick has been willing to spend at the position. The Patriots haven't taken a receiver in the first round since Terry Glenn in 1996. 

Is the situation at that spot such that Belichick would be willing to use the No. 32 pick in this year's draft on a receiver? If he wants to wait until the second round -- where the Patriots have picks No. 56 and No. 64 -- who may be there waiting for the call? 

WHAT ABOUT FREE AGENCY?

Here are a few of the names worth keeping an eye on come next month, as the Patriots have expressed interest in free-agent wideouts since the new league began but have not been able to land a dependable starting-caliber player in that time. With this list, we'll focus in on players who could potentially contribute inside since it appears that's something for which the Patriots -- given their interest in Adam Humphries and Golden Tate -- are looking.

DAY 1 OPTIONS

AJ Brown, Ole Miss 
Brown, according to some experts, could be in the mix as the top receiver taken in this year's class. But if it's his teammate DK Metcalf who goes first, and if true "X" options like N'Keal Harry go early, Brown could end up sliding. At 6-feet, 226 pounds, he'd certainly qualify as a big slot, but he can uncover with his size as well as his route-running. He's not afraid to mix it up as a blocker, which the Patriots would appreciate, and he's aggressive enough to run through contact with the ball in his hands. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares him to JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

Parris Campbell, Ohio State 
Campbell isn't thought of as a first-round receiver by most, but his athletic traits could attract someone near the end of Day 1. He lit up the combine at 6-feet, 205 pounds, running a 4.31-second 40 (96th percentile among receivers, according to MockDraftable.com), jumping 135 inches in the broad jump (98th percentile) and clocking a 4.03-second 20-yard shuttle (90th percentile). He may project more as a "Z" than a true slot since he's shown an ability to burn off the corner as a jet-sweep specialist. He's also a threat in the screen game, where he can use his speed to slice through defenses. He may not be the draft's most polished route-runner, but he has physical gifts that can't be taught. On special teams, he could fill a role for the Patriots both as their kick and punt returner. 

Deebo Samuel, South Carolina 
Samuel is another inside receiver who's built to withstand the punishment pass-catchers absorb over the middle of the field (5-11, 214 pounds) but has the athleticism (4.48-second 40) to break games open. He's an explosive returner (four kicks brought back for touchdowns) and has produced against some of the best competition college football has to offer. He put up 10 catches for 210 yards and three scores against Clemson last season. 

DAY 2 OPTIONS

Mecole Hardman, Georgia 
The Patriots love to draft Bulldogs, and there are a couple of receivers from Georgia in this year's class who may catch their eye. Riley Ridley is more of an outside threat who'll use his body to shield defenders and pluck passes out of the air with dependable hands. Hardman, meanwhile, is an undersized burner. The 5-10, 187-pounder ran a 4.33-second 40 at the combine and has drawn comparisons to Seattle's Tyler Lockett (51 percent of snaps in the slot for the Seahawks in 2018). Hardman has only spent two seasons as a receiver so he won't be a short-to-intermediate route-running whiz. But maybe with some coaching, and if he gets a good reference from coach Kirby Smart, he'll provide the Patriots with an explosive presence from the slot. He might be available to the Patriots in the third round if they wait to pounce at the position.

Andy Isabella, UMass 
We dove deep into Isabella's skill set here, but he's worth mentioning again as a potential option. The fact that he was a down-the-field player at UMass (4.31-second 40) who's projected as a slot -- he's admitted he's working on interior routes leading up to the draft -- means he could have some versatility within offensive formations. That's something the Patriots typically like to see. Isabella could be dangerous as an end-around option, and he has solid short-area quickness (4.15-second 20-yard shuttle) to redirect in the middle of the field for Tom Brady.

WHAT ABOUT A TRADE?

Terry McClaurin, Ohio State
The Patriots haven't plucked players from the Urban Meyer tree in some time, but McClaurin would make sense as the next. He profiles as one of the best all-around athletes in the class at the position (4.35-second 40, 37.5-inch vertical), and his top MockDraftable.com comparisons include Chad Jackson, Bethel Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson. McLaurin got some experience working in the slot at Ohio State and showed reliable hands. He's also a potential core special-teamer who has the size, speed and competitiveness to excel on fourth down.

DAY 3 OPTIONS

Greg Dortch, Wake Forest
At 5-foot-7, 173 pounds, Dortch isn't going to give the Patriots some of the inside-out versatility that they like. He worked out of the slot almost exclusively at Wake Forest. And his frame won't make him an imposing player in the run game as a blocker. But he's tough. He suffered a punctured small intestine while scoring against Louisville, stayed in the game, scored twice more, and then later that day had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. He returned two punts for scores last year and averaged 11.0 yards per return with one muff.

Hunter Renfrow, Clemson
Renfrow has been projected as a Patriots fit since he was working the short-to-intermediate area for Clemson in the College Football Playoffs years ago. Surprise, surprise: He tested as a quick change-of-direction target at the combine (6.8-second three-cone, 4.19-second 20-yard shuttle) who could be the next Danny Amendola as a slightly-built slot. If the Patriots want to wait until Day 3 to nab a slot option with experience performing under pressure, Renfrow could be their guy.

Cody Thompson, Toledo 
We had Thompson going off to the Patriots in a seven-round mock draft earlier this offseason. Here's what we said at the time: "Quarterback-turned-receiver. MAC product. Possesses special teams value. Seventh-round pick. Sound familiar? Thompson isn't going to be the next Julian Edelman, but he does have some intriguing qualities to work with. Because he doesn't have breakaway speed (4.57 40), he might be a slot receiver even though his frame (6-1, 205) makes him look like an "X." Furthering his case for the slot would be his agility numbers -- 6.87 three-cone, 4.03 short shuttle -- and his willingness to block. Thompson has experience as a returner and has blocked three punts in his college career, meaning there might be a spot for him on the roster even if he doesn't contribute offensively."

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Report: Patriots have had discussions with Vikings about Kyle Rudolph

Report: Patriots have had discussions with Vikings about Kyle Rudolph

As OTA's begin and we draw closer to mandatory minicamp, the Patriots have reportedly had discussions with the Vikings about a trade for tight end Kyle Rudolph. 

Rudolph is entering the final year of his contract with Minnesota and is due $7.625 million. He is unwilling to take a pay cut, so the Patriots would have to create space to execute a trade. The two-time Pro Bowl tight end caught 64 passes for 634 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. 

Since Rob Gronkowski's retirement, the Patriots have signed Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Benjamin Watson to one-year contracts. They also signed Matt LaCosse to add depth to the position before Gronkowski retired. 

However, Rudolph is proven to be a far more productive tight end than all three of the players the Patriots brought in to replace Gronkowski. If the price tag for him is as low as Girardi suggests, Bill Belichick might want to think about creating cap space for Rudolph. Restructuring Tom Brady's $27 million cap figure could be a way to make the necessary space. 

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WATCH: First look at Patriots OTA's and new linebackers coach Jerod Mayo

WATCH: First look at Patriots OTA's and new linebackers coach Jerod Mayo

Monday marked the first day of Patriots OTA's, and the team's Twitter account posted a first look at players going through some drills along with new linebackers coach Jerod Mayo getting his first taste of NFL coaching experience. 

Mayo was brought on to Bill Belichick's staff in March after the position was vacated by now Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. Mayo spent all eight seasons of his playing career as a linebacker for the Patriots, earning two Pro-Bowl selections, a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2010 and the 2008 Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

He was also a member of the Super Bowl 49-winning Patriots, who defeated the defending champion Seattle Seahawks thanks to an interception by Malcolm Butler in the closing moments of the game.

Mayo and the Patriots defense have a lot to live up to after a dominant performance against the Rams in Super Bowl 53. They will use the time in OTA's to get acclimated before mandatory minicamp starts on June 4. 

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