The New England Patriots waited until their final pick in the 2014 NFL draft to add some competition at wide receiver.
The Patriots selected diminutive Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon in the seventh round for more depth in the slot. The 5-foot-8, 184-pound receiver caught 89 passes for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior with the Wolverines in 2013, including an epic 14-catch, 369-yard, two-touchdown performance against Indiana.
Over the next two weeks, NESN.com will look at each position to see how the Patriots’ depth chart stacks up now that the draft and the undrafted free-agent signing period are over. We’ll break down roster locks, players on the bubble and practice-squad candidates.
Check out the Patriots’ depth at receiver heading into the spring.
Roster locks: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Matthew Slater
On the bubble: Josh Boyce, Jeremy Gallon, Mark Harrison, Kenbrell Thompkins
Practice squad candidates: Reggie Dunn, Greg Orton
There was a chance that Amendola would be released or traded earlier in the offseason, but now that he has made it to organized team activities, it would be shocking to see last year’s free-agent addition cut — even after the Patriots added two more slot options in LaFell and Gallon.
Edelman obviously isn’t going anywhere, and LaFell adds height and a veteran presence. Slater is a special-teams ace, and it would be far too early to give up on Dobson, last year’s second-round pick.
That leaves one or two roster spots for Boyce, Gallon, Harrison, Thompkins, Dunn and Orton, and that competition becomes one of the most intriguing subplots of the summer.
Boyce was selected in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft and played in nine games last season, starting three. He caught nine passes for 121 yards but ended the season on injured reserve after he hurt his ankle.
Thompkins was signed as an undrafted free agent last offseason and began the 2013 regular season as a starter. He played in 12 games, starting eight, and caught 32 passes for 466 yards with four touchdowns. He was slowed late in the season by a hip injury and lost his starting role to Dobson.
Harrison came into 2013 as the Patriots’ highest profile undrafted free-agent signing, but he spent the entire season on the non-football injury list after he hurt his foot during the Rutgers pro day in March.
Harrison ran a 4.37-second 40 yard dash with a 6.99-second three-cone, 4.33-second short shuttle, 38.5-inch vertical leap and 10-foot-9 broad jump at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine, giving him elite size and athleticism. He had an inconsistent career with the Scarlet Knights, catching 107 passes for 1,769 yards and 18 touchdowns during his college career.
Gallon ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at this year’s combine and clocked a 7.07-second three-cone and 4.26-second short shuttle at his pro day in March. He also had a 10-foot-10 broad jump and 39.5-inch vertical leap. It’s rare for a slot receiver to have better speed than agility numbers, and it tends to show in his college tape.
Thompkins and Boyce have the best shots at making the Patriots’ roster, but their spots aren’t guaranteed after having up-and-down rookie seasons. Harrison could bring elite size to the position, and a strong training camp would increase Gallon’s chances of making the 53-man roster. A little competition can’t hurt a Patriots receiving corps that struggled in 2013.