NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
Nine. That’s the number of wide receivers the New England Patriots have drafted since 2002.
While that number suggests head coach Bill Belichick is open to grooming young route-runners to catch passes from Tom Brady, the team’s success rate in doing so tells another story.
Of the nine wideouts selected by the Patriots over that span, it can be argued that only Deion Branch and David Givens became integral parts in the offense. They were drafted 11 years ago.
When you take away the 477 receptions Branch and Givens amassed over their tenure with the Patriots, the other seven draft picks have combined for just 285 catches—or in Wes Welker terms—two and a half seasons.
The Patriots are undergoing renovations at receiver. Welker and Brandon Lloyd are no longer on the roster, and former seventh-round quarterback Julian Edelman is unsigned. In terms of the receivers actually under contract with New England, it’s freshly inked slot receiver Danny Amendola, an AFC East foe named Donald Jones, Pro Bowl gunner Matthew Slater and three practice squad players.
Needless to say, someone not already in the fold will be brought in to make an impact. Yes, the depleted wide receiving corps suggests the Patriots will turn to a place of mixed results: the draft.
The draft has seen the Patriots invest second-round draft picks in the likes of Texas A&M’s Bethel Johnson and Florida’s Chad Jackson. It has also seen the team nab North Carolina’s Brandon Tate and Ohio’s Taylor Price in Round 3. Unfortunately, none of which were able to carve out a significant role in the passing attack. None of which remained in New England beyond three seasons, either.
New England’s checkered past of missing on receivers certainly makes the future an uncertain one. But if there was ever a time for the Patriots to grab a receiving prospect, it would be now.
Without the help of Welker, Lloyd and potentially Edelman, 36 percent of the Patriots’ total yardage from 2012 could be missing. And seeing how the biggest chips of free agency have already fallen—barring third-round compensation for tendered Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders—Radio City Music Hall is likely to be the venue for New England to re-stock the wide receiver depth.
This year’s class is loaded with mid-round options at wideout. There may not be a receiver selected in the top 10 picks, but there will be a laundry list of difference-makers chosen between Round 2 and Round 3. With the deep crop, Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio won’t have to mortgag the entire draft to find a viable receiver.
So, who exactly could the Patriots use a pick on? Here are four notable names who fit the bill.
Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Patton was a highly productive cog in the Bulldogs’ pass-heavy offense. During his senior year, 6’, 204-pounder posted 104 receptions for 1,394 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also pieced together eight games with a catch of more than 40 yards. Since transferring from Coffeyville Community College in 2011, Patton has shown some tremendous body control and precision route-running. He’s not a burner, but he can line up at more than just the “Z” receiver spot and should hear his name called either late in day one or early in day two
Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech
A Tennessee defect, Rogers finished his college career at Tennessee Tech. He finished strong too, racking up 78 receptions for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns. Standing in at 6’2″, 217 pounds, Rogers has the length to be potent target down the field. He ran the 3-cone drill in 6.71 seconds at the NFL combine, where he also showed outstanding leaping ability and some sure hands. Despite a questionable track record, Rogers is the type of player the Patriots may deem too good to pass up if available at pick 59 of Round 2.
Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
The Beavers’ all-time leading receiver, Wheaton played bigger than his 5’11″, 189-pound frame. Wheaton has some of the shiftiest feet in the 2013 draft, and registered a 3-cone time of 6.8 seconds in Indianapolis. Wheaton may not be the prototypical downfield target, but he does run tight routes and knows how to track the football into his grasp. He is another potential candidate to be drafted at the end of the second round.
Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
Stedman Bailey is a gritty player who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves because he was on the same team as Tavon Austin, the most exciting player in college football. No, he’s not a burner and he’s not very imposing at 5’10”, 193 pounds, but Bailey will make an impact in the NFL from day one. He knows how to produce, and did just that for the Mountaineers, catching 113 balls for 1,627 yards and 25 touchdowns this past season. He’s a physical and heady receiver who should find a home in the second or third round.
Regardless of New England’s history of missing on receivers, the need for a young field-stretcher is at an all-time high. With just five draft picks, though, the team must be diligent in finding the right one. Move over, Deion Branch and David Givens, there’s reason to believe the dry spell ends this April.