The New England Patriots’ need at wide receiver significantly increased Wednesday when they released veteran Brandon LaFell. Receiver vaults up to the Patriots’ top need, and they could address it through free agency and the draft.
The NFL Scouting Combine ended Monday, so we now have a better sense of which prospects the Patriots could select based on the team’s draft trends and the players’ measurables. The Patriots value speed and agility at wide receiver, so here are the potential fits.
We’ll start with big receivers since LaFell was just released, and the Patriots need a new player to fill the “X” role.
Josh Doctson, TCU
6-foot-2, 202 pounds
Projected round: 1 to 2
The Patriots likely would have to trade up for Doctson, but he checks nearly every box for a New England wideout. He ran a 4.50-second 40-yard dash, which he could improve at his pro day, and posted a 41-inch vertical leap, 10-foot, 11-inch broad jump, 6.84-second three-cone and 4.08-second short shuttle.
Doctson caught 78 passes for 1,326 yards with 14 touchdowns as a senior.
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
6-foot-3, 212 pounds
Projected Round: 1 to 2
Thomas has the size and agility the Patriots typically look for in an over-6-foot receiver. He impressed at the combine with a 6.80-second three-cone and 4.13-second short shuttle, although his 4.57-second 40-yard dash is a tad slower than the Patriots typically like at the position.
Thomas caught 56 passes for 781 yards with nine touchdowns in 2015. He might not be available unless the Patriots trade up in the draft.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
6-foot-1, 201 pounds
Projected round: 2
Thomas’ teammate isn’t as big or productive, but he has better speed, agility and lateral quickness. Miller ran a 4.50-second 40-yard dash, 6.65-second three-cone and 4.07-second short shuttle.
Miller caught 25 passes for 340 yards with three touchdowns in 2015, his first year at receiver after playing quarterback. He also ran the ball 43 times for 261 yards and one touchdown.
Charone Peake, Clemson
6-foot-3, 209 pounds
Projected round: 5
Peake has impressive speed and agility for his size. He ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and 6.96-second three-cone.
Peake caught 50 passes for 716 yards with five touchdowns in 2015.
Devon Cajuste, Stanford
6-foot-4, 234 pounds
Projected round: 7
Cajuste ran the best three-cone drill of the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, clocking 4.49 seconds. He also ran a 4.20-second short shuttle and had a 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump.
Cajuste caught 90 passes for 1,589 yards with 14 touchdowns in four years at Stanford, which has been a pseudo-Patriots farm system in recent seasons.
Marquez North, Tennessee
6-foot-2, 223 pounds
Projected round: Undrafted
The Patriots would be taking a flyer on North, who caught just 74 passes for 874 yards with five touchdowns in three seasons with the Volunteers. A knee injury limited him as a junior.
North ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash, 6.90-second three-cone and 4.13-second short shuttle at the combine and should be drafted off those testing numbers.
Check out how every big wide receiver at the combine fared against the Patriots’ typical standards.
Now let’s look at the smaller wideouts, since Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola both will be 30 years old in 2016.
Will Fuller, Notre Dame
6 feet, 186 pounds
Projected round: 2
Fuller is 6 feet, but he weighs significantly less than 200 pounds, so it’s unclear if he could play “X” receiver in the NFL. He also has just 8.25-inch hands, which is slightly concerning.
Fuller ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash and a 6.93-second three-cone, so he certainly has the speed and agility to play for the Patriots.
Fuller caught 138 passes for 2,352 yards with 29 touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Fighting Irish.
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
5-foot-10, 194 pounds
Projected round: 2 to 3
Shepard ran a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash and also posted a 41-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump. His 7-second three-cone was slightly disappointing, but he can improve that at his pro day.
Shepard caught 86 passes for 1,288 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2015.
Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
6 feet, 198 pounds
Projected round: 4
Mitchell is slightly taller than the average Patriots slot or “Z” receiver, but he has the required speed and quickness. He ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and a 6.94-second three-cone. He also recorded a 36-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump. Mitchell potentially could play “X” receiver in the NFL, too.
Mitchell caught 58 passes for 865 yards with five touchdowns as a senior.
D.J. Foster, Arizona State
5-foot-10, 193 pounds
Projected round: 6-7
Foster began his Sun Devils career as a running back and had a 1,081-yard season in 2014 before moving to receiver as a senior. He caught 222 passes for 2,458 yards with 14 touchdowns in four seasons at Arizona State.
Foster ran a 6.75-second three-cone and 4.07-second short shuttle at the combine and also had a 4.57-second 40-yard dash.
Jalin Marshall, Ohio State
5-foot-10, 200 pounds
Projected round: 7
Many questioned why Marshall declared for the draft after his sophomore season because he caught just 74 passes for 976 yards with 11 touchdowns in two seasons. He helped his stock at the combine with a 6.80-second three-cone, 4.13-second short shuttle, 37.5-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump. He potentially can improve his 4.60-second 40-yard dash at Ohio State’s pro day.
Trevor Davis, California
6-foot-1, 188 pounds
Projected round: Undrafted
Davis had the best combine performance of any receiver with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, 6.60-second three-cone and 4.22-second short shuttle. He also recorded a 38.5-inch vertical and 10-foot, 4-inch broad jump.
Davis is taller than the typical Patriots’ “Z” or slot receiver, but his weight could preclude him from playing the “X” role. He caught 40 passes for 672 yards with two touchdowns as a senior.
Check out how every small wide receiver at the combine fared against the Patriots’ typical standards.
Check out how every receiver at the combine fared against the Patriots’ overall trends.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Jan 1, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Michael Thomas (3) against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Buckeyes defeated the Fighting Irish 44-28. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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