Phil Perry

Prototypical Patriots: Which freaky ‘X' receivers are the best fits?

Can Eliot Wolf and Co. find a game-changing wideout in the draft?

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For a long time, putting together our Prototypical Patriots series was relatively self-explanatory. We had about two decades of drafts run by Bill Belichick to analyze what he preferred at certain positions.

What were the physical or production-related thresholds he seemed to value at quarterback? Receiver? Tackle? Pass-rusher? Corner?

The more picks Belichick made, the more information we had, and -- theoretically -- the more we could zero-in on the players Belichick coveted on draft weekend.

Now? The entire process is a little tougher. 

Branches of the Wolf tree

De facto Patriots general manager and director of scouting Eliot Wolf has no track record as a franchise's primary front-office decision-maker. It's not entirely clear what he'll prefer on a position-by-position basis.

All we can do, then, is work off clues from personnel chiefs alongside whom Wolf has studied in the past. That includes his father, Ron Wolf, who built the Packers in the early 1990s and beyond.

The elder Wolf tutored the likes of Ted Thompson, John Dorsey, John Schneider, Reggie McKenzie, Scot McCloughan and Brian Gutekunst. Aside from McCloughan, who left the Packers in 1999, the younger Wolf worked with all of those future general managers in Green Bay. He worked directly under Dorsey in Cleveland as assistant GM.

As we go through this year's Prototypical Patriots series, we'll use evidence from all the branches of the Ron Wolf executive tree, pointing out what they valued in their early-round selections.

The prototypical Wolf tree receiver

At receiver, there are 18 players who were drafted by a member of the Wolf executive tree in the first or second rounds. We have official pre-draft measurements -- thanks to the extensive library from Kent Lee Platte's site -- for all of them.

Therefore, from this pool of 18, here's what we can say.

They have an average height of 6-foot-1 and an average weight of 203 pounds. Their average 40-yard dash time is quick (4.45 seconds), as is their average short-shuttle time (4.18 seconds). They're also explosive, particularly for their size, with an impressive average vertical (36.5 inches) and broad (10-foot-4) jumps. Those jumps rank in the 63rd and 69th percentile, respectively.

Grouped together with a 40 time that ranks in the 69th percentile, it's fairly clear what Wolf types are seeking at receiver when they take one early: physical specimens.

What should help us identify fits in this year's class even more than the average numbers for highly-drafted wideouts? Coming up with some thresholds for those categories that Wolf-exec tree general managers appeared to be after.

  • 13 of the 18 were at least 6 feet tall
  • 15 of the 18 receivers we studied weighed at least 197 pounds
  • 15 of the 18 had a 40 time that came in at 4.51 seconds or better
  • 13 of the 18 had a 35-inch vertical or better
  • 14 of the 18 had a 10-foot broad jump or better
  • 13 of the 18 had a short-shuttle time of 4.30 or better

Who fits the suit?

We'll take the six categories mentioned above -- height, weight, 40 time, vertical, broad, short-shuttle time -- and look for wideouts in this year's draft class who meet at least five of the thresholds Wolf-tree types have seemed to covet.

Packers picks Javon Walker, Robert Ferguson, Terrence Murphy and 2022 second-rounder Christian Watson checked all six thresholds prior to being drafted. Walker was impressive enough prior to the 2002 draft that Green Bay selected him in the first round. He is the only first-round receiver taken by the Packers since Wolf took the reins of the Packers personnel department in 1991. 

Of the 18 receivers studied here, only Walker, Amari Cooper (Raiders, 2015), Michael Crabtree (Niners, 2009) and Josh Doctson (Commanders, 2016) were first-round picks.

One of Schneider's two first-rounders in 2023, Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, checked all six of the key thresholds we looked for here. Schneider's second-rounder in 2019, DK Metcalf, hit five of six. Davante Adams and Cooper also hit five of six. 

In this year's draft class, we've identified 13 wideouts who fit that relatively-hard-to-find athletic profile. Plenty of options, seemingly, for Eliot Wolf and the Patriots front office.

Without further ado, let's get to the options who fit the bill...

Rome Odunze, Washington (6-foot-3, 212 pounds)

Marvin Harrison Jr. would, in all likelihood, be the first name on this list had he taken part in the pre-draft athletic-testing process. He didn't, which means it's Odunze who ends up topping the class for our purposes.

He's one of just three players we found who checked all six of the thresholds sought thanks to his 4.45-second 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical, 10-foot-4 broad jump and 4.03-second short-shuttle time. A snappy route-runner with contested-catch skills (led the country with 21 in 2023), and more than enough athleticism to shine after the catch, Odunze is a do-it-all prospect at one of the game's most important positions.

Barring a trade down from No. 3 overall, it's unlikely the Patriots will be able to end up with him. But he looks like the best fit in this class based on this profile.

Jalen McMillan, Washington (6-foot-1, 197 pounds)

Highlights from Washington Wide Receiver, Jalen McMillan. McMillan got hurt in his third game of 2023 which caused him to miss four games that season and be limited in several others.

Interestingly enough, one of the other wideouts in this class to check all six of the thresholds sought is one of Odunze's teammates.

McMillan has the combination of size and lower-body explosiveness the Wolf-executive tree typically likes, with a 37-inch vertical and a 10-foot-7 broad jump. His 4.47-second 40 isn't blazing, but it's fast enough for our purposes.

A nuanced route-runner, he might not be a No. 1 any time soon, but his talents could make him a natural as a "big slot" at the next level.

Luke McCaffrey, Rice (6-foot-2, 198 pounds)

Highlights from Rice University Wide Receiver, Luke McCaffrey. McCaffrey is a former quarterback who switched to receiver in college, and his the younger brother of 49ers running back, Christian McCaffrey.

Like McMillan, McCaffrey just sneaks in under the weight threshold. Otherwise? He's solidly within range of what the Wolf tree has drafted early in the past: 4.46-second 40, 4.02-second short shuttle, 36-inch vertical, 10-foot-1 broad.

All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey's little brother, Luke began his career as a quarterback before transitioning to receiver in 2022. He's tough over the middle, his hands are dependable, and he's a good enough athlete to run effective routes as he continues to grow into the position.

Malik Nabers, LSU, (6-feet, 199 pounds)

Had this list laid out the best players at the position one by one, Nabers would've been at the top. Second at worst. But we have Nabers here as the top option who checks five of the six boxes we were looking for.

The only one he doesn't? The short shuttle, since he -- as was the case with many here -- didn't run one at his pro day. Doesn't matter. He's wildly explosive and perhaps the best catch-and-run wideout in the class. Like Odunze, he ain't making his way to New England unless the Patriots end up trading back and out of the No. 3 overall pick.

Brian Thomas Jr., LSU (6-foot-3, 209 pounds)

Thomas is a tad more realistic for the Patriots, though he's expected to be a first-round wideout as well. Should Eliot Wolf opt to move back to the middle of the first round -- perhaps in a deal with Minnesota? -- Thomas could be a target.

He's one of the biggest freaks in the class, with a 4.33-second 40 time, a 38.5 vertical and a 10-foot-6 broad jump. Like Nabers, he hasn't participated in the short shuttle. Were he to make his way to New England, though, they'd likely be more concerned with his straight-line speed anyway.

His rare combination of length and athleticism would make him the ideal "X" the Patriots have been looking for.

Adonai Mitchell, Texas (6-foot-2, 205 pounds)

Highlights of University of Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell, who ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Draft combine

Mitchell has what the Patriots need at the receiver spot. Size. Speed. Body control. Impressive ball-tracking ability. Contested-catch chops along the boundary. Explosive athleticism for after-the-catch playmaking, evidenced by his 4.34-second 40 time (94th percentile) and 11-foot-4 broad jump (98th percentile) at this year's combine.

His engine doesn't seem to run hot at all times. But when it does? Two touchdowns against Alabama. One score and 141 yards against Kansas. One score and 149 yards against Kansas State. One score and 109 yards against Oklahoma State.

If the Patriots get their hands on this Georgia transfer and coax more out of him on a consistent basis, they should have a legit No. 1 wideout on their hands.

Xavier Legette, South Carolina (6-foot-1, 221 pounds)

Highlights of South Carolina wide receiver Xavier Legette

It might be a little strong to compare another second-round receiver out of the SEC to AJ Brown. But can you blame us for wondering if Legette can have a similar trajectory as a pro? 

Legette is about the same size at 6-foot-1, 221 pounds. And he performed slightly better at the combine in the 40-yard dash (4.39 seconds), broad jump (10-foot-6) and vertical (40). He didn't clock a short-shuttle time, but from the information we have, Legette looks like one of the best fits for the Patriots in this draft class.

Like McMillan and McCaffrey, he's widely expected to be available on Day 2 of the draft. Thanks to his bulked-up frame and explosive movement skills, he appears to be an ideal option at No. 34 overall.

Johnny Wilson, Florida State (6-foot-6, 231 pounds)

Wilson probably isn't anyone's idea of a "prototype." He's just too big to be thought of in that manner. But for this list? He checks five of six boxes, including the short-shuttle time, which came in at a very impressive (especially for someone with his size) 4.11 seconds. The only mark he missed was his 40 time (4.52 seconds), which was just .01 seconds off of our threshold's low end.

Wilson's catch radius is ridiculous, and he has a surprising amount of fluidity to his routes for someone with his proportions. He may end up as a tight end at some point. No matter his listed position, though, he has the size and ball skills that could make him a good fit on third down and in the red zone when coverage gets tighter and throwing windows shrink.

Ryan Flournoy, Southeast Missouri State (6-foot-1, 202 pounds)

Redhawks, stand up! Flournoy is coming from a smaller program, but he has more than enough size to be included here. His athleticism, meanwhile, is next-level. He checked into the combine with a 39.5-inch vertical (89th percentile) and a 11-foot broad jump (94th).

While he played a lower-level of competition, he flashed good hands for Southeast Missouri State, and he showed well at this year's Senior Bowl, going up against Power 5 competition. As a later-round option, the Patriots could find they have something to work with in Flournoy.

Cornelius Johnson, Michigan (6-foot-3, 212 pounds)

Size? Check. Speed? Check (4.44-second 40). Explosiveness? Check (37.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-7 broad). The only thing holding Johnson back a bit here on this list is a 4.37-second shuttle time. His hand size (8.6 inches) could be a limiting factor in the eyes of a Wolf-tree exec, too, since only one of the 18 players we studied measured in with hands smaller than nine inches.

But Johnson could find a match in New England, with a front office that's looking for toughness. And if the Patriots want to rely on their running game, Johnson's blocking ability, combined with his frame, could get him on the field early. He's far from polished at this stage, but he has the physical characteristics that should buy him time to develop at the next level.

Bub Means, Pitt (6-foot-1, 212 pounds)

Talk about a wild ride to the NFL. Starting his career as a corner at Tennessee, Means transferred to Louisiana Tech and flipped to offense in 2020. After two seasons there, he switched schools again, ending up at Pitt, where in 2023 he caught 41 passes for 721 yards and six scores.

After taking part in the Shrine Game, he recorded a 39.5-inch vertical and a 4.43-second 40. Wideouts with his size and athleticism don't grow on trees, and if the Patriots get a chance to nab him on Day 3 -- given what Wolf-tree execs have liked in the past -- maybe they'll jump at the chance.

Devaughn Vele, Utah (6-foot-4, 203 pounds)

Vele is going to be 26 years old as a rookie after serving a two-year mission with the LDS Church in Samoa, walking on at Utah, and spending five years playing for the Utes. Not the "prototype" in that sense. But he has real length (33.5-inch arms) and explosiveness (10-foot-6 broad, 36-inch vertical) that could get him drafted.

He's a three-year starter with what looks like a good understanding of how to run routes. And for a team like the Patriots looking for help where it can get it at this spot, he could be worth a flier.

Cole Dow, Dayton (6-feet, 208 pounds)

This Flyers pass-catcher doesn't exactly... well... fly. He clocked a 4.57-second 40, per Platte. But his vertical (38 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-7) meet the mark. Ditto for his short-shuttle time (4.20 seconds). His quickness showed up in his three-cone performance as well (6.84 seconds).

What might make Dow an attractive addition, perhaps as an undrafted free agent? He was a quarterback at Dayton but was used as a dual threat and could end up fitting best as a wideout if he gets a crack at the next level.

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