The New England Patriots didn’t use any of their four 2017 draft picks on a wide receiver. But they did scoop up a very intriguing wideout prospect shortly after the draft concluded.
Austin Carr, who signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent over the weekend, is coming off a fascinating college career at Northwestern that saw him grow from a freshman walk-on into one of the nation’s most productive receivers.
After making relatively minor contributions during his sophomore and junior seasons, Carr blossomed into the Big Ten’s top wideout as a senior, catching 90 passes for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. He was just the second player since 2000 to lead the conference in all three categories (Allen Robinson, 2012).
The Patriots are loaded at wide receiver after trading for Brandin Cooks and re-signing Danny Amendola, but Carr looks like a player who would fit right in in New England’s offense.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, Carr doesn’t possess blazing straight-line speed, but he’s very quick, as evidenced by the 6.72-second three-cone drill he ran at Northwestern’s pro day. Lining up both in the slot and out wide with the Wildcats, he did most of his damage on underneath crossing routes and deep drags, often catching passes on the opposite side of the field from where he lined up.
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Those two plays came against Wisconsin and Ohio State, who were ranked eighth and sixth in the nation at the time, respectively. The defensive back Carr shoved aside in the second highlight was Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker, who was just drafted 15th overall by the Indianapolis Colts.
The Ohio State game was one of the best of Carr’s collegiate career, as he hauled in eight passes for a career-high 158 yards. Against Wisconsin, he caught a career-best 12 balls for 132 yards and scored Northwestern’s only touchdown.
Though much of his production came over the middle, Carr also displayed strong sideline awareness and was adept at catching passes in traffic.
Obviously, Carr’s game also has its flaws, as is the case with any player who doesn’t hear his name called on draft night. His routes rely more on rounded edges than quick cuts — you don’t see much of the stop-on-a-dime type action Julian Edelman is famous for — and his lack of top-end speed means he likely won’t be much of a vertical threat at the NFL level.
Teams don’t expect perfection from undrafted free agents, though, and Carr might have the most upside of any UDFA the Patriots signed this week. It’s easy to envision him becoming the latest under-appreciated offensive player to thrive in New England.
But first, he has to make the team, and that will be no easy task. The Patriots had a deep and dangerous receiving corps even before Cooks entered the equation, with Edelman, Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and special teams ace Matthew Slater all set to return this season.
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