Free agency hasn't yielded the Patriots much at the receiver position just yet. Maybe the draft is where they'll turn to find the size and speed they're looking for on the outside.
It's another loaded draft class at the position, and there will be capable options for Bill Belichick and Co. to pick from well into Day 3. Here we'll try to identify the best fits based on Belichick's draft history at the position.
Who Belichick has selected in the past could be best summed up by one adjective: freaky.
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The average outside-the-numbers player Belichick has drafted in the first four rounds has a 40-yard dash time of about 4.38 seconds, about a 6.87-second three-cone, approximately a 36.5-inch vertical, in the range of a 10-foot-4 broad jump and close to a 4.21-second short shuttle. None have measured shorter than 5-foot-11 or lighter than 198 pounds.
The average slot Belichick has drafted is a little slower (about a 4.46-second 40) and a little less explosive (36-inch vertical, 9-10 broad). But the average slot is also quicker (6.76-second three-cone, 4.06-second short shuttle). None have measured shorter than 5-foot-8 or 184 pounds.
In addition to checking up on all standard measurements, we'll also dig into Kent Lee Platte's Relative Athletic Score for some context on this year's receiver group. RAS factors in height, weight and speed numbers to generate a score for any player who has recorded enough data to qualify.
Why is RAS useful for our purposes, particularly when it comes to the Patriots and the receivers they've drafted over the last two decades? Belichick has taken receivers only with "elite" scores (RAS of 8.00 or higher) in the first four rounds of the draft.
Eleven of the 16 receivers drafted by the Patriots who qualified for an RAS score were "elite" scorers. (Brandon Tate, taken in the third round in 2009, did not qualify for an RAS score as he did not test prior to the draft.) And of the eight receivers Belichick has selected in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, three of them (including Julian Edelman) were "elite" scorers for Platte.
Christian Watson, North Dakota State, 6-foot-4, 208 pounds
There simply is not a box -- from a physical standpoint -- that Watson doesn't check. He was arguably the freakiest athlete at this year's combine when looking at this position, with a 4.36-second 40, a 38.5 vertical and a 11-4 broad jump. He scored a perfect 10.0 in Platte's RAS system, and his closest comparison from an RAS perspective is Julio Jones. He's coming from a smaller program, and he's viewed as relatively raw as a prospect, but he had a strong week at the Senior Bowl and would certainly give the Patriots a threat on the outside for whom opposing defenses would have to account.
Alec Pierce, Cincinnati, 6-foot-3, 211 pounds
If it hadn't been for Watson and a few other ridiculous showings in Indianapolis, Pierce likely would've received more buzz. He did nothing but himself, though, with a 40.5-inch vertical and a 10-9 broad jump, proving himself to be an explosive athlete. His 4.41 40 time was electric, helping contribute to an elite 9.80 RAS score. Having lettered in volleyball and track in high school, Pierce is a well-rounded athlete with an ability to go up and make contested catches down the field. He may not be a big-time separator with his route-running, but he has the size and speed to provide the Patriots what they're looking for outside the numbers. And he'll block, which you know Bill Belichick will appreciate.
Treylon Burks, Arkansas, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds
We have our first outlier on the list. Burks has plenty of size to play on the outside for the Patriots. His testing? Sub-par. Across the board. His 40 time came in at 4.55 seconds. His vertical, at his pro day, was satisfactory at 35.5 inches. But his broad jump (10-2) and three-cone time (7.28 seconds) were low. But he's still viewed by scouts as a player with good speed. He played heavier than his listed 225 pounds late last season and had to shed weight, which may have hampered some of his testing results, but the film shows a dynamic athlete with good size. A first-team All-SEC honoree -- someone who ran away from the uber-talented Alabama secondary last season -- he has plenty of athleticism to be on New England's radar.
Isaiah Weston, Northern Iowa, 6-foot-3, 214 pounds
What's in the water at Northern Iowa? Trevor Penning was an elite tester on the offensive line this year, as was Spencer Brown a year ago. Then Weston showed up to the combine and blew it up. For someone his size, his 4.42-second 40, 40-inch vertical and 11-3 broad were mind-boggling. If the Patriots are looking for a size-and-speed project in the middle rounds, Weston would certainly be worthy of a flier. He scored a 9.99 when it comes to RAS, comparing favorably to Texans legend Andre Johnson.
Jameson Williams, Alabama, 6-foot-2, 180 pounds
Is he light for what the Patriots typically draft here? He is. Should it matter? It should not. Williams is one of the few true blue-chip players in this year's class and the Patriots would have to consider pulling the trigger on a trade up for his services if he gets to within range of that kind of move. He would change the geometry of opposing defenses to the point that every facet of their offense would be improved. If the team wants to find out what it has in Mac Jones in the next couple seasons, few better ways to do that than pairing Jones with an elite wideout. That's Williams.
Chris Olave, Ohio State, 6-feet, 187 pounds
Olave is light for the Patriots. And his vertical was low compared to what they typically like (32 inches). But his broad jump checks a box (10-4) and his 40 time is plenty fast (4.39 seconds). Then factor in his play style -- one of the smoothest and most sophisticated route-runners in the class, someone who could function on the inside or the outside -- and he feels like a Patriots fit. Olave is also touted as a true professional at the position in terms of how he approaches his craft. Sound like a Patriot to you?
Kevin Austin, Notre Dame, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds
Austin is another elite tester who could be available to the Patriots on Day 3. He was suspended for the entire 2019 season for undisclosed reasons and then barely played in 2020 because of injury. Will one season of good production (888 yards on 48 catches for 18.0 yards per catch, seven touchdowns) be enough for him to be drafted in the first three rounds? His testing may be enough to push him into that range. He jumped 11-feet in the broad and 39 inches in the vertical. His 4.43-second 40 was plenty fast for Patriots purposes and he's one of the few players at this year's combine who a) did the shuttle drills and b) knocked them out of the park. His 4.15-second short shuttle at his size is tremendous, as is his 6.71 three-cone time.
George Pickens, Georgia, 6-foot-3, 195 pounds
Pickens will be an interesting case study in this year's draft class. He's coming off a torn ACL that cost him most of last season. His vertical (33 inches) would indicate his explosiveness -- which looks elite on tape at times -- isn't quite where it will be when he gets further removed from his injury. But he still jumped 10-5 in the broad and ran a solid 4.47-second 40. He doesn't have shuttle times to his name yet, so it's hard to call him a perfect fit from a physical standpoint, but he starred in the SEC before his injury, and his medicals could drop him into a range in this year's draft that may make him a good choice for a value-conscience team like the Patriots. He did score in the "elite" RAS range, which means we should keep an eye on him for New England.
Velus Jones, Tennessee, 6-feet, 204 pounds
Jones definitely has the speed that the Patriots usually like on the outside, having run a 4.31-second 40 at this year's combine. His vertical (33 inches) and broad (10-1) don't seem to indicate the same level of explosiveness, though, so the scouting department may have to come back with a verdict as to whether or not Jones' timed speed matches up with how he plays. He was however, SEC Special Teams Player of the Year (shared the honor with Jameson Williams) as a returner, and he did post 807 yards receiving on 62 catches to go along with seven touchdowns, indicating the athleticism is real.
Bo Melton, Rutgers, 5-foot-11, 189 pounds
Just as it's wise for us to keep an eye on elite athletes from the SEC on a list like this one, it's also smart to keep tabs on players who've played for Greg Schiano. For obvious reasons. Melton had an impressive Senior Bowl week and looks like a versatile player with the chops to play inside or out. With a 4.34-second 40 time and a whipping 38-inch vertical, we can push past the fact he's a little light and include him here without issue.
Garrett Wilson, Ohio State, 6-feet, 183 pounds
Wilson is another 'tweener who we'll include on this list. Is he better suited to play outside in the Patriots offense? He runs a 4.38-second 40. Check. And his jumps (36-inch vertical, 10-3 broad) would indicate he's right around what the Patriots often want. But he's light. And he posted a rocky shuttle time, no matter where he's expected to align (4.36 seconds). Either way, he's a very good athlete with plenty of room to grow in terms of his mastery of the position.
Tanner Conner, Idaho State, 6-foot-3, 230 pounds
That's a massive wideout. But he can move, too. According to Bruce Feldman of the Athletic, he jumped over 40 inches in the vertical and he's broad-jumped 11 feet. He's also apparently run in the 4.3-second range on his 40. He may be unrefined, but that kind of size and athleticism doesn't grow on trees. On Day 3? Worth it.
Calvin Austin, Memphis, 5-8, 170 pounds
Here's another player who's lighter than the Patriots usually want. Even for the smaller-profile receiver spot. His 40 is blazing fast compared to normal Patriots slots (4.32 seconds), but he's lightning quick as well (4.07 shuttle, 6.65-second three cone). And he jumped like crazy at the combine (39-inch vertical, 11-3 broad). Explosive. Quick. Fast. Austin would be a fascinating weapon for the Patriots to use on the interior.
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Skyy Moore, Western Michigan, 5-foot-10, 195 pounds
Moore is "quick as a hiccup," according to NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah. Watch him run routes and you can't help but agree. His shuttle times were poor (4.32 short shuttle, 7.13 cone), but because the agility tests at the combine were so wonky this year -- some players bypassed them altogether because they were conducted so late at night in Indy -- we're willing to look past them with Moore. His 40 time (4.41 seconds) and broad jump (10-5) are plenty impressive for Moore to succeed as a hybrid inside-out option who may make more sense on the interior due to his frame.
Wan'Dale Robinson, Kentucky, 5-foot-8, 178 pounds
Robinson bumps right up against the low-end of what the Patriots are looking for on the interior size-wise and as an athlete. And we don't know his shuttle times. But he jumped 9-10 in the broad jump and ran a 4.44-second 40. He's a little light, but he plays heavier, embracing contact and shaking tacklers in open space. Where someone like Treylon Burks would be a supersized Deebo Samuel, Robinson looks more like a pocket-sized version. His flashes of toughness and athleticism in the SEC could attract the Patriots in the middle rounds.
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Jahan Dotson, Penn State, 5-foot-11, 178 pounds
Here's another case of a cone time -- do we accept it? do we not? -- skewing our perspective. Dotson ran a 7.28-second three-cone in Indy. Not ideal. But his 40 time, 4.43 seconds was excellent for a Patriots slot. As were his 36-inch vertical and 10-1 broad. He's unafraid to go over the middle and he has the ability to make acrobatic catches. He may be a first-round player, which may take the Patriots out of the mix on him, but if they're looking for explosive-play ability from the interior Dotson would be an intriguing match for New England.
Kyle Philips, UCLA, 5-foot-11, 189 pounds
Philips isn't the physical specimen the Patriots often want. His 4.58-second 40 time was slow -- though his estimated 1.49-second 10-yard split was impressive. His 33.5-inch vertical was nothing to write home about, either. But his production as the leading receiver for coach Chip Kelly -- a friend of Belichick's -- each of the last three seasons at UCLA is worth noting. Ditto for how he dominated at the Shrine Bowl. He's tough. He understands how to run routes. He feels like a perfect Patriot on Day 3.