The Patriots have devoted considerable time during the pre-draft process to evaluating this year’s elite wide receiver prospects.
Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njibga, USC’s Jordan Addison, TCU’s Quentin Johnston and Boston College’s Zay Flowers all have met with New England evaluators ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft, either during top-30 visits to Gillette Stadium (Addison and Flowers) or at their respective pro days (Smith-Njigba and Johnston).
The prevailing sentiment has been that if the Patriots want to draft any of those four wideouts, they’ll need to do so in the first round, where they currently own the 14th overall pick. But what if that isn’t the case?
Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy tweeted Monday that “numerous teams” he’s spoken with view Smith-Njigba as the only bona fide first-round receiver in this class.
“One thing has become clear on calls around the league (the) past couple weeks,” Nagy, a former Patriots scout, tweeted. “NFL isn’t nearly as high on this year’s WR class as (the) media.”
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler echoed that sentiment in his “The Beast” draft guide, which was published Monday morning. Smith-Njigba is the only wideout Brugler has definitively projected as a first-round pick, with Addison, Johnston, Flowers and Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt all pegged as first-/second-rounders.
Of course, a team doesn’t necessarily need to have a “first-round grade” on a player to draft him in Round 1, especially as the picks climb into the high teens and 20s. We’re also at the height of smokescreen season, so all draft-related rumors must be viewed with a discerning eye.
But Nagy’s intel suggests there is a chance one or more of those highly touted wideouts could slide into the early or mid-second round, which would allow New England to invest its Day 1 pick on a different position (offensive tackle? cornerback?) and still land a premier pass-catcher. The Patriots are scheduled to pick at No. 46 overall in Round 2 and No. 76 in Round 3, with eight more selections in Rounds 4-7.
Overall, this is considered a weaker draft for receivers and a tremendously deep one for tight ends. The Patriots could be looking to draft players at both spots, as JuJu Smith-Schuster headlines their solid but star-less receiving corps and they don’t have a starting-caliber tight end under contract beyond this season.
Other notable wideouts who could be on New England’s Day 2 radar include North Carolina’s Josh Downs, Michigan State’s Jayden Reed, Cincinnati’s Tyler Scott, Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims and Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo.