Finding Potential Patriots Targets On 2020 NFL Playoff Teams

Could any of these players join the Patriots this offseason?

by

January 8, 2021

The New England Patriots won’t be participating in the 2020 NFL playoffs. But some future Patriots could be.

With the newly rebranded Super Wild Card Weekend set to kick off this Saturday afternoon, we scanned the rosters of all 14 playoff teams and highlighted a player (or two) from each who could pique the Patriots’ interest this offseason.

All players listed below are impending unrestricted free agents unless otherwise noted.

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Sammy Watkins
The Patriots’ lack of pass-catching talent hamstrung their offense this season, making wide receiver one of their top offseason priorities. Watkins isn’t in the top tier of wideouts set to hit the market this spring and has been slowed by injuries of late, but he’s only 27 (28 this summer) and was a solid contributor in the Chiefs’ loaded offense during their Super Bowl run. It’ll be interesting to see what his market is after the least productive season of his career (37 catches, 421 yards, two touchdowns in 10 games).

Buffalo Bills: LB Matt Milano
When the Patriots signed running back Mike Gillislee away from Buffalo in 2017, the Bills received a fifth-round draft pick in return. They used that pick on Milano, who went on to become a key cog in their defense. A rash of injuries limited the Boston College product to 10 games and a career-low 335 snaps this season, but when healthy, he’s the type of difference-maker New England’s linebacking corps lacked in 2020. The Patriots reportedly hosted Milano for a pre-draft visit back in ’17, so he’s been on their radar for a while.

Pittsburgh Steelers: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster’s stock is substantially lower now than it was in 2019, when he was coming off a 111-catch, 1,426-yard season. He’s totaled 139 catches for 1,383 yards over the last two seasons and averaged just 8.6 yards per reception in 2020, which ranked 126th among qualified pass-catchers. Smith-Schuster still managed to catch nine touchdown passes this season, though, and at just 24 years old, he’ll still be one of this year’s most sought-after wideouts.

Tennessee Titans: WR Corey Davis
After having his fifth-year option declined last offseason, Davis went on to set career bests in receiving yards (984), yards per catch (15.1) and touchdowns (five) as Tennessee’s No. 2 behind A.J. Brown. Patriots fans also will remember him as the only receiver to dominate Stephon Gilmore in 2018 (seven catches, 125 yards, one touchdown). Another potential New England target is tight end Jonnu Smith, who caught eight touchdowns this season and has garnered praise from Bill Belichick in the past. Tight end is another major need for New England.

Baltimore Ravens: DL Derek Wolfe
The Patriots reportedly showed interest in Wolfe last spring. The soon-to-be 31-year-old was one of the NFL’s top run-stuffers this season, finishing with Pro Football Focus’s fourth-highest run defense grade among interior defenders. Wolfe didn’t provide much as a pass rusher for the Ravens but had seven sacks in 2019, his final year with the Denver Broncos. The Patriots’ defensive line was a mess this season, and Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise all are impending free agents.

Cleveland Browns: WR Rashard Higgins
It’s been a weird couple of seasons for Higgins, who had 550-plus receiving yards in 2018 and 2020 but just 55 (on four catches over 10 games) in 2019. The 26-year-old dropped only one pass this season, and Baker Mayfield posted a 126.1 passer rating when targeting him, per PFF, which ranked in the top 15 among wideouts with at least 40 targets. Higgins certainly isn’t a No. 1, but he’d be a cheaper complementary option.

Indianapolis Colts: QB Jacoby Brissett
If the Patriots choose the bridge quarterback-and-draft pick route this offseason, Brissett would be a reasonable stopgap option. The 28-year-old wasn’t impressive in his two Patriots training camps and has a low ceiling as a starter, but he doesn’t make many mistakes, either. His 1.4 percent interception rate is fifth-best among QBs who have started at least 15 games over the last four seasons. T.Y. Hilton also could be a Patriots target. He’s past his prime but still is a starting-caliber wideout.

Green Bay Packers: TE Robert Tonyan
Tonyan was a surprise fantasy superstar this season, hauling in 11 touchdown passes (tied with Travis Kelce for most among tight ends) while catching 88.1 percent of his targets (best among all players with 40-plus targets). Patriots tight ends have caught six touchdown passes over the last three seasons. Tonyan likely is staying put, though. He’ll be a restricted free agent, and if the Packers tender him at a first- or second-round level, any interested team would need to give up that corresponding draft pick to sign him. (If Green Bay gives Tonyan an original-round tender, a team can sign him to an offer sheet without draft-pick compensation because he entered the league as an undrafted rookie.)

New Orleans Saints: TE Jared Cook
The Patriots reportedly “aggressively” pursued Cook in free agency two years ago, but the veteran tight end didn’t want to play second fiddle to Rob Gronkowski, who wound up retiring (temporarily) a month later. Cook is two years older now (34 in April) but has been solid for New Orleans, posting a 37-504-7 line in 15 games this season.

Seattle Seahawks: DT Poona Ford
Ford, like Tonyan, is a restricted free agent, so his availability will depend on how Seattle chooses to tender him. But the 2018 UDFA has developed into a stud this season, grading out as PFF’s 12th-best interior defender while starting all 16 games and tallying 40 tackles, eight tackles for loss and nine QB hits. Ford is shorter than the Patriots typically like their D-tackles, though, measuring in at 5-foot-11, 310 pounds.

Washington Football Team: CB Ronald Darby
Cornerback is a question mark for the Patriots with J.C. Jackson (restricted) and Jason McCourty (unrestricted) both set to hit free agency and Stephon Gilmore’s future with the team unclear. Darby was not good for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019 but has rebounded in Washington, rarely leaving the field and earning the 14th-best PFF grade among corners. The 27-year-old did not record an interception but broke up 16 passes — fifth-most in the league — while playing on a one-year, $3 million contract.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Chris Godwin/LB Lavonte David
Receiver and linebacker are two of the Patriots’ biggest offseason needs, and Godwin and David would be ideal additions. The former saw his numbers dip a bit this season while he battled injuries but was one of the NFL’s most productive wideouts in 2019, catching 86 passes for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. (This season, Godwin went 65-840-7 in 12 games.) David, who turns 31 later this month, is one of the league’s premier linebackers, earning a top-five grade from PFF in three of the last four seasons. Both players will be pricey, but with more than $60 million in projected salary cap space, the Patriots will have plenty of spending money this offseason.

Los Angeles Rams: TE Gerald Everett
The 26-year-old Everett is second on the Rams’ depth chart behind Tyler Higbee, who’s under contract for three more years. He’d immediately become the No. 1 in New England, whose tight ends have ranked dead last in the NFL in catches in each of the last two seasons. Among 27 qualified tight ends this season, Everett and Smith (mentioned earlier) ranked third and fourth, respectively, this season in yards after catch per reception, trailing only Noah Fant and George Kittle.

Chicago Bears: WR Allen Robinson
This would be a dream signing for Patriots fans. But Robinson, who’s turned in back-to-back 1,000-year seasons with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles as his quarterbacks, won’t come cheap, and New England traditionally has not shelled out big money to free agent receivers. Another name to watch: Bears D-lineman Brent Urban, who was PFF’s third-highest graded run defender at his position this season.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
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