We know the Patriots could find themselves a few veteran fill-ins at the receiver position for 2019. They've had success in finding free agents like Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell, or in making trades for players like Randy Moss, Wes Welker and others.
But the draft shouldn't be ruled out as an avenue to add depth. Especially with six picks in the top 101 this year, which is a section of the draft in which there will be some promising receiver talent available.
Rostered players like Braxton Berrios, Darren Andrews and Cody Hollister could compete for roles. And perhaps Josh Gordon will become available off of suspension at some point down the line. But the only truly sure thing back for next season will be Julian Edelman, who will be 33 years old. An infusion of youth for the receiver room -- an infusion of bodies -- could go a long way toward improving the Patriots passing offense.
By all accounts, the crop of players available in late April might not have the upper-tier elite talent that some other classes have featured. But there's depth there -- both with slot-types and true "X" options outside the numbers.
The Patriots, of course, have shown an affinity for players who can do both. And yep. There are a handful of those as well.
Here are a few questions worth asking about this year's draft class of receivers ahead of the combine as we try to get a sense of which players might work out at One Patriot Place...
WHAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT?
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick is constantly saying that a receiver's job is to get open and catch the football. Well, believe it or not, being fast can help players get open. So 40-yard dash times can serve as confirmation of a player's speed on tape. If it's not, then the 40 time might force someone to go back and check the tape to help ensure that their evaluation is accurate. Patriots draft picks at this spot typically run under 4.5 seconds in the 40. Edelman ran a 4.52 . . . but he was ridiculously quick. Which brings us to another event that matters: the short shuttle. Anything in the low 4-second range is lightning. Jamison Crowder, Cole Beasley and Adam Humphries -- slot receivers we discussed on The Next Pats Podcast -- all ran quicker than 4.5-second short shuttles. Edelman ran a 3.92. Deion Branch ran a 3.78. Those numbers are tremendous. Only three players cracked 4.0 seconds in the short shuttle last year, and no one cracked 3.9. At a position where change of direction is so critical to that "get open" part of the job, the short shuttle and three-cone drill (many Patriots picks broke 7.0 seconds in the three-cone) are worth watching at the combine.
WHO HAS THE MOST TO GAIN?
Andy Isabella out of UMass won't be our "freak" listed below, but he's somewhat of a freak in his own right. There's video circulating on the internet of a high school track meet where Isabella beat last year's No. 4 overall pick -- Browns corner Denzel Ward -- in the 100-meter dash. Ward ran in the low 4.3s last year at the combine, and Isabella could end up the fastest man in Indy this year. Though he'll get pegged as a slot because of how he looks, others have compared him to undersized burners like Travis Benjamin and Brandin Cooks. If Isabella runs what we think he might run, he might solidify himself as worthy of a second-round pick . . . or higher? Teams love speed. If he runs something less than the blazing time we expect, he'll still be coveted, just not as highly. Isabella does appear to provide some versatility -- the type of versatility that the Patriots would covet -- because while he's very straight-line fast, he's also quick and expected to have quick shuttle times (as Cooks did).
WHO HAS THE MOST TO LOSE?
This won't be a Laquon Treadwell situation -- the Ole Miss receiver who ran a 4.63 40 at his pro day, still went in the first round, and has been a bust for the Vikings -- but it'll be interesting to see what Arizona State's N'Keal Harry runs in the 40. He has great size (listed at 6-2, 225 pounds) but isn't considered all that explosive. Nor is he much of a separator thanks to the suddenness of his route-running. Still, some believe he has the potential to be a first-round pick. (Others, like NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, seem to peg him as more of a second-round talent.) Even if Harry is great in contested catch situations, if his 40 is considered a clunker, that could hurt him. JJ Arcega-Whiteside of Stanford is another player whose game isn't built on speed, but if he doesn't test well, that could impact when teams are willing to take him.
WHO'S THE BIGGEST FREAK?
D.K. Metcalf from Ole Miss is out to an early lead here. (He's the guy on the right...and the guy on the left.) Some wonder if he'll be able to run what he's expected to run after posting pictures that make him look like a defensive end. But if he approaches the 37.5-inch vertical and the 4.46 40 he posted before last season, according to The Athletic's Bruce Feldman, he'll have a team ready to draft him early in the hopes he's the next Julio or Megatron.
WHO'S THE PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOT?
It's no coincidence that we turn to the SEC as often as we do to peg Patriots prototypes. Not only do coaches like Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have good relationships with Bill Belichick, providing him with their best intel on which prospects can thrive in New England, but scouts and evaluators get to see players in that conference compete against the best of the best. That's why players like Riley Ridley of Georgia and Deebo Samuel of South Carolina seem like easy fits as receivers. Both were productive. Both are considered tough competitors and willing blockers. Ridley looks like more of a boundary player, though not a burner, almost in the LaFell mold. Samuel looks like someone who could move around the formation and provide some versatility as an inside/outside weapon. Samuel also provides some special-teams value (four kick returns for touchdowns), which the Patriots would likely appreciate. We had Samuel go off the board to the Patriots in the second round of our seven-round mock draft. Terry McLaurin of Ohio State is another player who seems to have some versatility and could improve his draft stock this week in Indy.
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