Patriots aren't good at drafting wide receivers because drafted wideouts aren't good

Patriots aren't good at drafting wide receivers because drafted wideouts aren't good

FOXBORO – How is it possible that the Patriots simultaneously have one of the best passing offenses in the history of the NFL with the game’s greatest quarterback at its controls and are still horrendous at drafting wide receivers?

Maybe because Bill Belichick long ago decided the college passing game was so primitive that it’s not even worth banging his head against the wall trying to find college wideouts.

To put a finer point on it, Belichick would rather be great at drafting corners, defensive linemen and offensive linemen than dealing with the sorcery required to get good at projecting wideouts.

Since 2011, the Patriots have drafted more quarterbacks in the first three rounds than wide receivers. And that’s with Tom Brady in the house.

Since 2009, the Patriots drafted wideouts have been: Braxton Berrios (2018, 6th), Malcolm Mitchell (2016, 4th), Devin Lucien (2016, 7th), Jeremy Gallon (2014, 7th), Aaron Dobson (2013, 2nd), Josh Boyce (2013, 4th), Jeremy Ebert (2012, 7th), Taylor Price (2010, 3rd), Brandon Tate (2009, 3rd), Julian Edelman (2009, 7th).

Belichick has disdain that borders on disgust for the simplicity of the college passing game.  

“The issue in college football is there’s just not the same passing game in college football as there is in the NFL,” Belichick said Wednesday at his predraft press conference. “Period. It’s harder to evaluate the receivers, it’s harder to evaluate the quarterbacks, it’s harder to evaluate the offensive linemen, it’s harder to evaluate the pass rushers and it’s harder to evaluate the coverage players.”

All may be hard to project but the Patriots still draft players at those other positions. At wideout? Nope. The team has never spent a first-round pick on a wideout. It’s spent four second-rounders and they only hit 25 percent of the time there (Deion Branch was great; Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson and Dobson were not).

If Belichick wants a wideout, nine times out of 10, he’ll buy one that’s broken in and who comes at a discount. Brandin Cooks. Chris Hogan. Phillip Dorsett. Cordarrelle Patterson. Brandon LaFell. Randy Moss. Chad Ochocinco. Keshawn Martin. Danny Amendola. Wes Welker. Donte Stallworth. Jabar Gaffney. Brandon Lloyd. Reche Caldwell. Doug Gabriel.

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“It’s always easier to evaluate NFL players than it is to evaluate college players,” Belichick pointed out. “We get a guy from another team, we’re going to see him play against teams we play, we just haven’t seen him play in our system, but we’ve certainly seen him match up against … comparable players in comparable schemes.

“When you’re talking about college players you’re talking about projecting a guy from whatever his college scheme is into a totally different scheme and that’s imperfect,” Belichick added. “It’s much harder from college to the NFL than from the NFL to the NFL.”

The Patriots enter the 2019 draft with wide receiver seeming to be their No. 1 need. But looking at the consensus top wideout prospects — the D.K. Metcalfs, Marquise Browns, and A.J. Browns — seems a waste of time.  

Unless … ? Unless Belichick decides that one thing he hasn’t done at the position is spend a first-rounder and maybe now is the time to do it. It seems to work for other teams. D.J. Moore and Calvin Ridley were first-rounders last year. They worked out for the Panthers and Falcons.

Then again, here are some of the other first-rounders taken in the past five drafts: Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Breshad Perriman, Nelson Agholor, Phillip Dorsett, Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell, Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross.

Only Cooper has been a Pro Bowler.

Of course, the Patriots can see those lackluster picks and raise them with the Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia, Cyrus Jones, Jordan Richards, Tavon Wilson, Ras-I Dowling collection. The science is imperfect at all positions.

Still, it’s most likely the Patriots try to extract a wideout from another team via trade. Agholor, for instance. The Patriots would sooner draft a long-snapper in the first round than a wideout.

A long time ago, Belichick gave me insight into how he felt about spending first-rounders on wideouts. It was late in the 2001 season and Richard Seymour had made a major impact already as a rookie. Belichick was walking through the locker room at Foxboro Stadium and I buttonholed him to ask, “Why a defensive tackle back in April rather than a wideout when it seemed so obvious Drew Bledsoe was being held hostage by a lack of weapons?”

“Who’s the best rookie wide receiver right now?” Belichick asked me.

I stammered.

“Chris Chambers,” he said. “You can get wide receivers anywhere in the draft. You can’t get players like Richard anywhere in the draft.”

To Belichick’s point, the first five wideouts in that draft were David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Rod Gardner, Santana Moss and Freddie Mitchell.

The next five taken from picks 30 through 52? Reggie Wayne, Quincy Morgan, Chad Ochocinco, Robert Ferguson and Chambers. Steve Smith was the next one taken. He went 74th. And he’ll also be going to the Hall of Fame.

In short, despite the glaring need, the Patriots don’t seem close to altering their wide receiver strategy in this draft. Or any other that Belichick is part of.  

Who will Pats pick? Latest mock draft roundup>>>

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NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

The New England Patriots added a veteran running back to their roster on Monday.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, ex-Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans RB Lamar Miller reached an agreement with the Patriots on a one-year contract.

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Miller, 29, missed the entire 2019 campaign after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason. In 2018 with Houston, he rushed for 973 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Miller's most productive NFL season came in 2014 with Miami when he tallied 1,099 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

With Miller now in the fold, he joins a Patriots running back depth chart that also consists of Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris. Michel underwent foot surgery in May and was placed on the PUP list earlier this month.

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski leaving the New England Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't just send a shockwave through the NFL. It also altered the fantasy football landscape.

The fantasy values of both the Patriots and Bucs' skill players will be much different in 2020 following Brady and Gronk's departure from Foxboro. We've gone over what to expect from the go-to guys in New England's offense, so now it's time to go over Tampa's weapons.

The obvious benefactors -- at least one would think -- of Brady becoming a Buc are his primary wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. But will their numbers, along with Brady's, see a significant increase as expected, or should we pump the brakes on the hype?

And then there are the running back and tight end positions. Can Tampa's intriguing rookie running back take over the starting job? What can we really expect out of Gronk after a year off from football?

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Here are our projections for the Bucs' key offensive players with Brady and Gronk in the fold:

Tom Brady, QB
Projected Stats
: 4,300 yards, 29 TD, 9 INT
Projected Draft Round: 5-7

Brady is set up to be a really solid starting quarterback in fantasy football this year. That being said, those who expect Brady to put up elite numbers and draft him any higher than Round 5 are just asking to be disappointed. There are going to be some growing pains in Bruce Arians' offense. Sure, having his old pal Gronk around as a security blanket will help, but it's going to take time for the six-time Super Bowl champ to get comfortable down in Florida. There's little doubt Brady's numbers will be better in nearly every category now that he has some real weapons at his disposal, just make sure you don't reach when plenty of other QBs will do just fine in the middle rounds.

Ronald Jones II, RB
Projected Stats
: 650 yards, 4 TD
Projected Draft Round: 7-9

Jones was an OK flex play at points last season, but overall he simply hasn't been the running back Tampa Bay has hoped for these last few seasons. That led to the Bucs selecting Vanderbilt product Ke'Shawn Vaughn on Day 2 of this year's NFL Draft. Jones is the No. 1 guy heading into camp, though it doesn't look like that will be the case throughout the 2020 campaign. Wait until the mid-to-late rounds to take Jones, and maybe even consider passing entirely to take Vaughn if you're so inclined to take a Bucs RB.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB
Projected Stats
: 550 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

Speaking of Vaughn, he could be a major difference-maker for the Bucs in Brady's offense this season. He rushed for 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns for Vandy last season and was pretty effective through the air too, tallying 270 yards and a TD. It's always tough to count on a rookie, but it's worth the risk and the ceiling definitely seems to be higher with Vaughn than it is for Jones. The addition of McCoy, however, makes Vaughn's fantasy outlook a bit murky.

LeSean McCoy, RB
Projected Stats
: 400 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

It's impossible to now as of right now how the Bucs backfield is going to shape up in 2020. Although McCoy is a shell of what he once was, Bruce Arians definitely should find some sort of role for the 32-year-old veteran. The obvious question is whether that role will be more significant than Jones' or Vaughn's. If you're really that compelled to draft a Bucs running back, something I'd avoid entirely, it's a total toss-up and a matter of personal preference.

Mike Evans, WR
Projected Stats
: 75 receptions, 1,250 yards, 7 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

There's no question the Brady-to-Evans connection is going to excite people heading into the new season. However, I'm somewhat skeptical about how their playing styles will mesh. Brady isn't one to take many risks, and Evans made a living out of catching Jameis Winston's ridiculous jump-balls downfield. It really is impossible to know how that'll work itself out, but nonetheless we're believers in Evans' elite talent and project him as a solid WR1 again in 2020.

Chris Godwin, WR
Projected Stats
: 90 receptions, 1,350 yards, 10 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

Godwin was the breakout star of the 2019 fantasy football season as he put up absolutely ridiculous numbers with Jameis Winston under center. Now, the question is whether he can do it again with Brady. That may seem like a silly question, but again we have no clue what to expect from Brady in Arians' offense and how it will differ from what Godwin thrived in a year ago. Regardless, he definitely should be one of the first WRs off the board.

Rob Gronkowski, TE
Projected Stats
: 50 receptions, 700 yards, 5 TD
Projected Draft Round: 6-8

How do you make stat projections for a guy who took a year off from football to party in Miami and join the WWE? With injury concerns to boot, that makes drafting Gronk in fantasy football an extremely risky move. Obviously, with that high risk could come high reward as Tampa's offense has the potential to be one of the best in the entire NFL and Brady is going to look to Gronk early and often as a security blanket. Draft the former Pats tight end in the middle rounds, long after guys like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz are off the board.

O.J. Howard, TE
Projected Stats: 25 receptions, 450 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

The Bucs are going to run two-tight end sets in 2020, so don't think that Gronk's presence will limit Howard's production. In fact, it could even help it. Howard was a huge fantasy disappointment in 2019 and is out to prove he isn't a bust this year. There's also still a chance he gets traded to a TE-needy team and benefits from a change of scenery. Either way, you could do worse than Howard in the later rounds of your draft.