As the 2023 NFL Draft draws closer, NESN.com is taking a closer look at this year’s crop of prospects to spotlight ones that could be on the New England Patriots’ radar.
For each position, we’ve highlighted three potential Patriots targets on Day 1, four on Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) and five on Day 3 (Rounds 4-7), with the acknowledgment that some players could wind up going earlier or later come draft day.
First up: wide receivers.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
6-foot-1, 196 pounds
2022 stats: five catches, 43 yards (three games)
Smith-Njibga’s elite short-area quickness, athletic profile and route-running ability have earned him comparisons to Julian Edelman — if Edelman was three inches taller. The Ohio State product missed most of the 2022 season with a hamstring injury, but in 2021, he was the most productive receiver (95-1,606-9) on a Buckeyes team that featured first-round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Working almost exclusively out of the slot, Smith-Njigba had nine-plus catches and 100-plus yards in each of the final five games that season, including an absurd 15-catch, 347-yard, three-touchdown effort in the Rose Bowl. Would the Patriots use a first-round pick on a slot receiver after signing JuJu Smith-Schuster to replace Jakobi Meyers? We’ll see. But Smith-Njigba has the talent to be the top target in their offense for years to come.
Zay Flowers, Boston College
5-foot-9, 182 pounds
2022 stats: 78 catches, 1,077 yards, 12 touchdowns (12 games)
The best offensive skill player to come out of BC in years, Flowers lacks ideal size but boasts excellent speed, quickness, elusiveness and playmaking ability. Nearly half of his receiving yards last season came on deep passes (500 of 1,077, per Pro Football Focus) and he’s proven he can win from both inside and outside alignments. The Patriots got a good look at Flowers when their staff coached him at the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl, even though the wideout participated in just one Shrine Bowl practice and didn’t play in the All-Star Game. New England hasn’t drafted a Boston College product since Ron Brace in 2009.
Quentin Johnston, TCU
6-foot-3, 208 pounds
2022 stats: 60 catches, 1,069 yards, six touchdowns (14 games)
A very different player from Smith-Njigba or Flowers, Johnston is a prototypical “X” receiver who averaged 19.0 yards per catch over three seasons at TCU. His broad jump and vertical jump both ranked in the 93rd percentile or better among wideouts, illustrating his elite explosiveness. The knocks on Johnston? He doesn’t always play with the proper level of physicality, and he’s had issues with drops. He also was a no-show in the Horned Frogs’ blowout loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game (one catch, 3 yards).
Josh Downs, North Carolina
5-foot-9, 171 pounds
2022 stats: 94 catches, 1,029 yards, 11 touchdowns (11 games)
Scouting reports rave about Downs’ footwork and athleticism, and he’s surprisingly effective in contested catch situations and in the red zone for a player his size. He also was phenomenally productive at UNC, averaging eight catches and nearly 100 yards per game over his final two seasons with 19 touchdowns. Downs mostly played in the slot for the Tar Heels, and that’ll likely be his primary role in the NFL, as well. He met with the Patriots earlier this week.
Tyler Scott, Cincinnati
5-foot-10, 177 pounds
2022 stats: 54 catches, 899 yards, nine touchdowns (12 games)
Compared to both Tyler Lockett and T.Y. Hilton during the pre-draft process, Scott was a big-play threat in college, averaging more than 16 yards per reception in each of the last two seasons and scoring 10 of his 14 collegiate touchdowns from 30-plus yards out. His 4.44-second 40-yard dash was slower than expected given his track background but still more than sufficient, and his vertical and broad jumps both ranked in the 89th percentile or better for receivers.
Marvin Mims, Oklahoma
5-foot-11, 183 pounds
2022 stats: 54 catches, 1,083 yards, six touchdowns (13 games)
The Patriots used a Day 2 pick on a Big 12 deep threat last year when they traded up to take Tyquan Thornton. Could they try that route again? Mims isn’t an identical player to the speedy, skinny Thornton, but he’s one of the fastest wideouts in this year’s draft (4.38-second 40) and was highly productive downfield for the Sooners. His 602 receiving yards on deep passes last season ranked third in the FBS, per PFF. Mims isn’t just a straight-line speed guy, either, with both jumps ranking in the 89th percentile and an above-average three-cone time (6.9 seconds).
Jayden Reed, Michigan State
5-foot-11, 187 pounds
2022 stats: 55 catches, 636 yards, five touchdowns (11 games)
PFF’s 2023 draft guide called Reed “one of (this year’s) crisper route-runners” and “a polished, high-floor player.” He can play multiple positions and has the elusiveness to make plays after the catch, and his lackluster 2022 stats mostly were the result of playing in a bad Michigan State offense. Reed was much more productive in 2021, averaging nearly 6 more yards per reception and scoring twice as many touchdowns.
A.T. Perry, Wake Forest
6-foot-4, 198 pounds
2022 stats: 81 catches, 1,096 yards, 11 touchdowns (13 games)
Perry played for the Patriots’ coaching staff at the Shrine Bowl and put his best foot forward, finishing that week as PFF’s highest-graded receiver in attendance. A skyscraper with a massive 6-foot, 10-inch wingspan, he racked up nearly 2,500 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns over his final two collegiate seasons. Perry’s game needs some fine-tuning, but he could learn behind DeVante Parker, to whom he’s been compared.
Michael Wilson, Stanford
6-foot-2, 213 pounds
2022 stats: 26 catches, 418 yards, four touchdowns (six games)
Durability is a real concern with Wilson after he played in just four games in 2021 and six in 2022. But he checks a lot of Patriots boxes: team captain, willing run blocker, special teams potential, Senior Bowl standout. Wilson’s three-cone time (6.81 seconds) and 10-yard split (1.53 seconds) also were very good for a wideout his size.
Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss
6-foot-2, 220 pounds
2022 stats: 51 catches, 861 yards, five touchdowns (13 games)
Mingo’s collegiate production wasn’t eye-popping, but there’s a lot to like when watching the big-bodied wideout on film. He played multiple receiver spots for Ole Miss, can slip defenders and make contested catches, is a threat in run-after-catch scenarios and uses his frame well as a blocker in the run game. Mingo also crushed his combine workout and turned heads at the Senior Bowl.
Puka Nacua, BYU
6-foot-2, 201 pounds
2022 stats: 48 catches, 625 yards, five touchdowns (nine games)
Another Senior Bowler, Nacua said the Patriots are one of the teams with whom he’s had the most pre-draft contact. He has good size, savvy route-running chops and the ball skills to make contested catches. There’s dual-threat potential there, too. Nacua carried 39 times for 357 yards in his two seasons at BYU — a healthy 9.2 yards-per-carry clip — and scored five rushing touchdowns in 2022.
Ronnie Bell, Michigan
6 feet, 191 pounds
2022 stats: 62 catches, 899 yards, four touchdowns (14 games)
Bell was a two-year captain for one of the Patriots’ favorite collegiate programs, and scouting reports praise his ball skills and run-blocking ability, as well as his “intensity and competitiveness.” He missed most of the 2021 season with a torn ACL but returned to start every game and post solid numbers in 2022.