Twenty-four hours ago, it would have seemed superfluous for the New England Patriots to use a high or even mid-round pick on a wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft.
That changed Tuesday when the team made the surprising decision to trade Brandin Cooks, shipping the 1,000-yard wideout to the Los Angeles Rams just one year after acquiring him. In return, the Patriots — who also sent a 2018 fourth-round draft pick to L.A. — received a 2018 first-rounder (No. 23 overall) and a 2018 sixth-rounder (No. 198), giving them four selections in the top 63 and eight picks total.
Receiver still is not a true “need” for the Patriots — they still have nine wideouts on their roster, including starters Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan — as quarterback, linebacker and edge rusher (at least) are higher on their list of priorities.
But with Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt and the recently acquired Cordarrelle Patterson all entering the final year of their contracts, Malcolm Mitchell’s future looking murky after lost 2017 season, and Edelman coming off a torn ACL and set to turn 32, it might be in New England’s best interest to add a talented young pass-catcher to the mix.
Here are a few early-round candidates who could pique the Patriots’ interest:
Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Ridley was the consensus No. 1 receiver entering the pre-draft process, but that gap began to close after his uneven performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. Still, the former Crimson Tide star might be the only surefire first-round wideout in this draft. His blend of speed and route-running ability has sparked comparisons to Marvin Harrison.
D.J. Moore, Maryland
Moore lit up the combine last month, placing in the top five among receivers in the 40-yard dash (4.42 seconds), vertical jump, broad jump, short shuttle and long shuttle. As those rankings indicate, he’s incredibly athletic, with shiftiness that could make him a dangerous weapon in the slot. The Patriots reportedly will host him for a visit later this month.
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
Kirk also has a visit scheduled with New England, and like Moore, he’s an intriguing slot option who also returns punts — an area of potential need for the Pats following Danny Amendola’s departure.
James Washington, Oklahoma State
Washington caught 39 touchdown passes and averaged 19.8 yards per catch over his four seasons in Stillwater, teaming up with fellow draft prospect Mason Rudolph to form one of the nation’s most prolific quarterback-receiver duos. His route-running needs work, though.
Here are two other wideouts projected to go in the middle rounds:
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Hamilton, who played primarily in the slot in college, met with Patriots receivers coach Chad O’Shea at his pro day. Big for a slot receiver at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he’s known for his route-running and sound hands, and he impressed both pro day observers and himself by running a 4.52-second 40.
Keke Coutee, Texas Tech
A slot receiver who doubles as a deep threat, Coutee ranked second in the nation with 1,088 receiving yards from the slot in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus, while also ranking eighth with 542 yards on passes that traveled 20-plus yards in the air. He’d be a lot of fun to watch in Josh McDaniels’ offense. Coutee met with the Patriots — who’ve employed two notable Texas Tech slot receivers in the past — at the combine.
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