FOXBORO, Mass. — With a current dearth at the wide receiver position, it appears the New England Patriots must look to the draft to fill out the group for the 2019 season. That’s a scary proposition for some given the Patriots’ perceived weakness at drafting receivers.
Since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000, the Patriots have drafted 16 wide receivers. Only four of those 16 players have gone on to have prolonged success with the Patriots, and that includes special-teamer Matthew Slater. Outside of Slater, wideouts Julian Edelman, Deion Branch and David Givens have been New England’s biggest success stories out of the draft. Brandon Tate also has lasted 127 games in the NFL, but the majority of that has come away from New England.
“I’d say the issue in college football is it’s just not the same passing game in college football as there is in the NFL, period,” Belichick said Wednesday during his pre-draft news conference. “It’s harder to evaluate the receivers, it’s harder to evaluate the quarterback, it’s harder to evaluate the offensive lineman, it’s harder to evaluate the pass rushers, and it’s harder to evaluate the coverage players.
“We’re all looking at the same film, so all the teams in the league, we all see the same games. But the college passing game is very different than the professional passing game, so when you’re looking at it, you’re looking at a lot of it’s really projecting all of those positions a little bit differently. To a certain degree, it’s different in the running game too, but probably less different in the run game than in the passing game, in my opinion.”
The Patriots have a much higher hit rate with adding veteran wide receivers with Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Randy Moss, David Patten and Chris Hogan serving as key examples. The Patriots also saw one season of production out of Brandon Lloyd, Brandon LaFell and Brandin Cooks, among others.
“I think it’s always easier to evaluate NFL players than it is to evaluate college players,” Belichick said. “Look, if we get a guy from a different team, we’re going to watch him play against many of the same teams we play. We just haven’t seen him play in our system, but we’ve certainly seen him match up against other players in our division, other players in our conference or comparable players in comparable schemes, which is critical too.
“In a lot of cases in college, you’re projecting a guy from whatever his college scheme is. If he’s in a totally different scheme, then that’s imperfect. But again, we all have the same opportunity here. It’s the same players. We’re all watching the same game, so we all have to make independent decisions from team to team as to how that player will fit into whatever team it is that’s trying to make it. It’s much harder from college to the NFL than from the NFL to the NFL.”
There are still veteran receivers available on the open market, and the Patriots could swing a trade for a wideout during or around the draft. The Patriots might be more willing to add a free-agent receiver after May 7 when signings no longer count against the compensatory draft pick formula.
The Patriots would be better suited counting on a veteran addition to immediately fill in at wideout, though players like Malcolm Mitchell, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, all of whom didn’t find long-term success, have proven New England can skate by for one season with a rookie receiving a key role.
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