Patriots Might Have Something In New Practice Squad Wide Receiver

Kristian Wilkerson had seven offers when he chose to join the Patriots' practice squad

by Doug Kyed

September 7, 2020

The New England Patriots, not content with the group of young wide receivers they brought in for training camp, looked outside of the organization to fill their practice squad.

Within the next three days, the Patriots plan to sign wide receivers Kristian Wilkerson and Mason Kinsey to their practice squad after the two former Tennessee Titans wideouts undergo and pass a series of COVID-19 tests.

Wilkerson, an undrafted free agent out of Southeastern Missouri State, is an interesting developmental prospect for a number of reasons.

Undrafted rookies as a whole were not given a fair shake this summer. With no organized team activities or minicamp, a truncated schedule of training camp practices and zero preseason games, many undrafted free agents never found their footing and had trouble impressing decision makers enough to make initial 53-man rosters.

The Patriots, as a good example, didn?t keep a rookie free agent on their initial 53-man roster for the first time since 2004.

So, the Titans chose to keep known commodities like Cameron Batson, Kalif Raymond and Cody Hollister to fill out their wide receiver depth chart behind starters A.J. Brown, Corey Davis and Adam Humphries.

Wilkerson wanted a fresh start and a legit chance at a 53-man roster spot, so he elected to join the Patriots’ practice squad with offers from six other teams.

Wilkerson comes from an FCS program, but his production and testing numbers made him stand out. He caught 219 passes for 3,540 yards with 33 touchdowns in four college seasons. He had 71 catches for 1,350 yards with 10 touchdowns as a senior. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Wilkerson ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash with a lightning-fast 1.45-second 10-yard split, 6.68-second 3-cone drill, 4.09-second short shuttle, 39.5-inch vertical leap and 10-feet, 8-inch broad jump.

To put those numbers into perspective, McKendree’s Matt Cole had the fastest 10-yard split among 59 wide receivers at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine at 1.46 seconds. Wilkerson beat that by .01 seconds. Wilkerson would have had the second-fastest 3-cone drill and short shuttle, eighth-highest vertical leap, sixth-longest broad jump and 14th-fastest 40-yard dash.

And it’s easy to see that Wilkerson’s quickness translates to the field.

One of Wilkerson’s best games of the 2019 college season came against Southern Illinois, with two NFL defensive backs — safety Jeremy Chinn, who was selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers, and cornerback Madre Harper, who’s on the Las Vegas Raiders’ practice squad — on the other side of the field.

Wilkerson torched them for 146 yards and a touchdown on six catches as SEMO beat SIU 44-26.

From watching Wilkerson’s senior film, he appears to have a unique combination of quick-twitch athleticism with the height to high point and pluck passes out of the air.

And yes, Wilkerson is going against inferior competition in those clips. But the Patriots are the same team that drafted safety Kyle Dugger out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne in the second round of the 2020 draft.

Wilkerson, like Dugger, is on the older side at 23 years old after redshirting as a freshman. Wilkerson doesn’t have Dugger’s versatility, with limited experience on special teams.

ESPN’s Turron Davenport didn’t see Wilkerson drop a pass in training camp practices this summer.

Wilkerson was smart to pick the Patriots. Behind starter Julian Edelman, there’s nothing but uncertainty on New England’s wide receiver depth chart. N’Keal Harry, the Patriots’ 2019 first-round pick, figures to slot into the No. 2 role. The third starting spot is up for grabs between Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski.

Usually, it’s not a great sign if an undrafted free agent didn’t impress enough to make a 53-man roster. But teams might find some diamonds in the rough this season.

There must be a reason why Wilkerson was a hot commodity after getting waived by the Titans.

Thumbnail photo via Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports Images
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