FOXBORO, Mass. — Last offseason, it was obvious the Patriots needed to add help at receiver.

Many fans wanted a prototypical boundary wideout like DeAndre Hopkins. A player who could win 1-on-1 matchups on the outside and provide Mac Jones with a capable downfield threat.

But a better argument could’ve been made for a quick, dynamic slot receiver. Someone who could excel in short areas while also making people miss in the open field. A shifty playmaker with the kind of jitterbug skill set that could change the entire feel of New England’s offense. A receiver whom opposing defenses actually would need to worry about in every situation.

Well, it looks like the Patriots found that player in the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

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(This didn’t need to be an either-or scenario for New England, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

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Douglas, who was the darling of training camp, provided flashes of brilliance over the first six weeks. But a post-fumble benching, a concussion-induced absence and the general struggles of the Patriots offense prevented him from truly showing out.

However, the rookie’s breakout game arrived Sunday, when Douglas caught four balls for 54 yards while adding one carry for 20 yards and returning one punt for 25 yards. Douglas, who prefers to go by “Pop”, was one of the Patriots’ best players in a dramatic home victory over the Buffalo Bills.

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“My guy Pop played unbelievable,” defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said in the locker room after the 29-25 win at Gillette Stadium.

Douglas, who missed Week 6 due to a concussion, saw a career-high 27 offensive snaps (67%). His yardage and catches also set and tied career highs, respectively.

“Very big spark,” Kendrick Bourne said of Douglas. ” … Just proud of that guy and the way he came back from injury and was just locked in.”

Douglas did a little bit of everything while trailing only Bourne in snaps among New England receivers. He broke ankles in the open field, made a diving catch on a third down and caught a red-zone pass on Jones’ game-winning drive.

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“Pop’s quick,” Bill Belichick said during a postgame news conference. “You know, he got some separation on a few routes, made a couple tough catches. The seam pass was a good catch. He got held on the play-action over-route on the first drive, I think it was. Short yardage play.”

Ultimately, Douglas stands out because of his speed and elusiveness in the open field.

Plays like this:

And this:

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And this:

For Douglas, making highlight-reel plays in open space just comes naturally.

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“It just happens, like a little instinct,” he said in the locker room. “I play with confidence. I don’t want the first person to tackle me. So, it’s just a thing.”

Did the Liberty product prove anything to himself with his big performance?

“That I can play,” said Douglas, who revealed he listened to Rod Wave’s “Shock Da World” for motivation during warmups. “… Look how we shocked the world, look how we overcame the doubters.”

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You still could make the case the Patriots should’ve extended themselves to add someone like Hopkins before the season. Douglas is promising, but he also is just a rookie. And he has limitations.

Douglas is short even by Patriots slot receiver standards. At 5-foot-8, he’s shorter than Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Troy Brown and Danny Amendola. But Douglas plays bigger than his size, a reputation that’s followed him since high school.

“We need him,” Bourne said. “His ability to run after the catch, his ability to catch the ball. Being a small guy, being undersized, it’s dope to see his growth. He’s going to be a great player.”

Would a prototype boundary receiver make a bigger difference this season? Perhaps. Maybe the Patriots should’ve targeted a taller wideout earlier in the draft, rather than purchasing sixth-round lottery tickets in Douglas and Kayshon Boutte.

But shelve your fantasy football logic for a minute. Without taking anything away from players such as Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski, it’s not unreasonable to say that slot receivers were the true engines of great Patriots teams from the last two decades. Pocket passers like Jones and Tom Brady need safety outlets who can get open in a hurry and move the chains.

New England won Super Bowls without Moss and Gronkowski. It’s never won a Lombardi Trophy without a great slot receiver.

Is Douglas the next in line? It’s way too early to make that call. But the 22-year-old has the talent and toughness to fill that all-important role.

He also has the kind of mindset that New Englanders want to see.

“I felt like this game, we all played for each other,” Douglas said. “There was no ‘I’. We all played for each other until the end, played for 60 minutes.”

Featured image via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images