Patriots’ NFL Draft Fits: Devin Smith, Tyler Lockett Among Best Receivers

For the umpteenth offseason in a row, the New England Patriots need a wide receiver.

Perhaps the 10th time will be the charm for the Patriots, who haven’t hit on a college wide receiver (a convenient way to exclude Julian Edelman, who really shouldn’t count since there was no film of him catching passes to study) since drafting Deion Branch and David Givens in the 2002 NFL draft.

The Patriots have Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola coming back as starters, but they lack depth after the top three. Amendola’s yearly salary multiplies after this season, so he’s unlikely to be back in 2016. The Patriots should be looking for depth now and a possible future starter.

Here are their best options throughout the 2015 NFL draft:

DEVIN SMITH, OHIO STATE

Projection: First round
Size: 6 feet, 196 pounds
Athleticism: 4.42-second 40-yard dash; 39-inch vertical jump; 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump; 4.15-second short shuttle; 6.83-second 3-cone
SPARQ ranking: 10th
Stats: 2014: 15 games, 33 catches, 931 yards, 12 touchdowns; career: 54 games, 121 catches, 2,503 yards, 30 touchdowns, 13 kick returns, 233 yards
How he fits: Smith is an incredible deep target with the speed to fly by defensive backs, the hops to snag contested passes and the ability to track down passes through the air. He wasn’t targeted frequently, but he absolutely made it count when he was, averaging an insane 28.2 yards per catch and a touchdown every 2.75 receptions. He’s not an experienced route runner, and he certainly could use some work as a blocker, but he should be a major weapon for the team lucky enough to draft him. The Patriots have lacked a deep-threat option since Randy Moss left, and Smith could add another dimension to their offense.

TYLER LOCKETT, KANSAS STATE

Projection: Second-round pick
Size: 5-foot-10, 182 pounds
Athleticism: 4.40-second 40-yard dash; 35.5-inch vertical jump; 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump; 4.07-second short shuttle; 6.89-second 3-cone
SPARQ rankings: 14th
Stats: 2014: 13 games, 106 catches, 1,515 yards, 11 touchdowns; career: 47 games, 249 catches, 3,710 yards, 29 touchdowns, 22 carries, 192 yards, 77 kick returns, 2,196 yards, four touchdowns, 32 punt returns, 488 yards, two touchdowns
How he fits: Lockett is a very, very good wide receiver. His only issue is that he’s small. But he plays tough and can win contested catches, which is something many smaller wideouts can’t. Lockett has great hands, he’s fast, quick and agile, and he’s a smooth route runner who finds space to get open even while being double- and triple-covered. If you throw the ball to Lockett, chances are he will either catch the ball or draw pass interference. He could get pigeonholed as a “slot” receiver, but if used correctly, he could be the next Antonio Brown. Since Amendola is unlikely to be back in 2016, Lockett would be a great fit over the middle of the field. He was third among draft-eligible receivers with 3.64 yards per route run, according to Pro Football Focus.

CHRIS CONLEY, GEORGIA

Projection: Mid-round pick
Size: 6-foot-2, 213 pounds
Athleticism: 4.35-second 40-yard dash; 45-inch vertical jump; 11-foot, 7-inch broad jump; 4.30-second short shuttle; 7.06-second 3-cone
SPARQ rankings: First
Stats: 2014: 13 games, 36 catches, 657 yards, eight touchdowns; career: 49 games, 117 catches, 1,938 yards, 20 touchdowns
How he fits: Conley is the most athletic wide receiver in this year’s draft. He’s also the most athletic “Star Wars” fan in history, which isn’t nearly as much of an accomplishment. He’s strong enough to beat press-man coverage and fast enough to beat his defender down field. I’ve seen criticism about Conley’s hands, but he had just a 7.5-percent drop rate during his senior season, according to Pro Football Focus. Conley didn’t have a ton of production at Georgia, which is concerning, but he has tremendous character and tons of upside to improve in an offense that focuses on throwing the ball more frequently. Conley could start his career as a deep threat, but he has the potential and smarts to develop into a consistent weapon.

STEFON DIGGS, MARYLAND

Projection: Late-round pick
Size: 6 feet, 195 pounds
Athleticism: 4.46-second 40-yard dash; 35-inch vertical jump; 9-foot, 7-inch broad jump; 4.32-second short shuttle; 7.03-second 3-cone
SPARQ rankings: 25th
Stats: 2014: 10 games, 62 catches, 792 yards, five touchdowns; career: 28 games, 150 catches, 2,227 yards, 14 touchdowns, 32 carries, 187 yards, 57 kick returns, 1,472 yards, two touchdowns, 25 punt returns, 235 yards
How he fits: Diggs is a versatile weapon, who can contribute through the air, on the ground and in the return game. He suffered a lacerated kidney in 2014 and broken fibula in 2013, which could raise question marks about his durability, given his smaller stature. Diggs was a captain under Randy Edsall, which is no small feat, since the Maryland head coach is known to be strict. Diggs’ biggest strength is his speed, versatility and big-play ability.

GEREMY DAVIS, CONNECTICUT

Projection: Late-round pick
Size: 6-foot-2, 216 pounds
Athleticism: 4.47-second 40-yard dash; 36.5-inch vertical jump; 10-foot, 4-inch broad jump; 4.18-second short shuttle; 6.86-second 3-cone
SPARQ rankings: N/A
Stats: 2014: 11 games, 44 catches, 521 yards, three touchdowns; career: 47 games, 165 catches, 2,292 yards, seven touchdowns
How he fits: Davis didn’t have a single drop in 2014 (the video above is from 2013). He’s a big-bodied receiver with the strength to overpower defensive backs on contested catches. His 4.47-second 40-yard dash is slightly deceiving, because he doesn’t play that fast and has trouble gaining separation downfield. He’s a concise route-runner and could be a solid possession receiver in the NFL. He’s a solid blocker and there has been talk that he could add some weight and play some “flex” tight end. That might not be necessary, and he could be better suited as a big slot receiver in the mold of Marques Colston or Anquan Boldin.

Patriots’ 2015 NFL draft fits: Defensive tackles, running backs, cornerbacks, wide receivers, linebackers

Thumbnail photo via Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports Images

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