Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Report: New England Patriots Want to Trade Up in First Round to Draft Wide Receiver

We say it all the time. No one outside the New England Patriots organization knows what position Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will go after, in any Draft. However, team officials have reportedly told Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman that Belichick is targetting a big time, play-making threat at wide receiver and that it’s one of the Patriots “main missing ingredients”. Freeman claims the team is looking to move up from pick 29 in the first round to snag a top-tier wide out.
It’s tough to bank on he said she said reports with regards to the Draft. Politics are involved so much that team officials are often used as media puppets to stir up rumors and, in this case, get other teams to draft wide receivers early, so Belichick and Caserio could have, say, a defensive tackle fall in their laps due to teams wanting to keep weapons away from New England.
Of course, teams need to satisfy their own agendas first and foremost, but an example of this cat and mouse game occurred when Rex Ryan drafted former Ohio State muscle man Vernon Gholston sixth overall in 2008 after rumors were flying around that Belichick coveted the workout warrior. Gholston is now known as one of the biggest defensive Draft busts in history, and the Patriots have a Pro Bowl linebacker in Jerod Mayo, who they grabbed tenth overall.
Still, these reports are intriguing, as New England doesn’t boast a very frightening pass attack at the moment. Since Randy Moss left in 2009, the Patriots have lacked a fast or physical receiver who can straight up make plays. The 2014 Patriots currently lack a reliable downfield speedster and a physical presence at the wide receiver position. Championship teams need one or the other, a la DeSean Jackson for the blur who creates natural separation, or Anquan Boldin, who uses strength off the line of scrimmage and body positioning to win battles.
Right now, New England’s wide receiver depth chart looks like this:
Y (slot): Danny Amendola (Tore groin Week 1, didn’t require surgery, will this injury linger?)… Josh Boyce (Injured reserve for ankle, five total games played)
X: Aaron Dobson (Foot stress fracture Week 12, missed five games including first playoff game vs. Indianapolis Colts, had surgery in March)
Z: Kenbrell Thompkins (Hip injury Week 13 and concussion in playoffs vs. Colts, missed five total games)
Julian Edelman played every wide receiver position in 2013, leading to his remarkable 105 REC 1056 YD season. It is also unclear where Brandon LaFell will play. Though the Z is likely his spot, LaFell’s former head coach, Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers, says he played everywhere for him, including tight end.
An intriguing option the Patriots have that many casual fans don’t know about is 2013 rookie free agent Mark Harrison. The 6’3″ 240 lber out of Rutgers was viewed as a 2nd-4th round pick in 2013, but went undrafted due to character concerns. Harrison ran a 4.47 40 Yard Dash and posted other impressive measurables, but allegedly trashed his Crowne Plaza Hotel room in Indianapolis, where the Scouting Combine was being held, to the point where it was strewn with mass amounts of garbage and bodily fluids.
During his time at Rutgers, Harrison totaled 107 catches for 1769 yards and 18 touchdowns. He didn’t play a single snap in 2013 due a foot injury, and was put on the physically unable to perform list. Harrison could be the physical receiver New England has coveted for years, while others speculate he may see reps at tight end. A serious talent to keep an eye on.
The Patriots did not come out of 2013 knowing they have a downfield burner or a physical weapon.
Edelman was Tom Brady’s only option in the AFC Championship vs. the Denver Broncos.
Amendola can be explosive when healthy, but his health is a massive if.
Dobson showed flashes of being a downfield, bomb-catching threat, but he is a soft 6-3 200 lbs and had his troubles hanging on to the ball. A bit of an in-betweener with regards to prototypical speed and physicality, not one or the other. Coming off foot surgery.
Thompkins was impressive at times as well, but wasn’t always on the same page with Brady and had his share of nagging injuries. He has the the body type to be physical at a stout 6’1″ 200 lbs, but, like Dobson, just doesn’t seem to have the will or durability to go over the middle and take contact consistently.
Boyce was electrifying returning the ball and scampering for yards after the catch, but his ankle injury retarded his progress significantly.
I hope I’m wrong, but Dobson and Thompkins seem to have a bit of Brandon Lloyd in them. The talent and hands are there, but the toughness and physicality could be lacking to some extent. In addition, Boyce included, all three rookie receivers suffered lower body injuries, which obviously isn’t a great sign. I’d be absolutely content to go into 2014 with no new starting receivers (outside LaFell) and see how these kids respond to their respective adversities. They have it in them to flourish and make the second year leap, all three displayed big time talent when they were healthy and if 100% for the playoffs, we may have seen a different outcome in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl.
But I love competition. When I read the Bleacher Report… report, I was ecstatic, knowing Belichick isn’t going to hand these kids jobs and could potentially grab a wide out that isn’t a 2nd, 4th or undrafted talent, as Dobson, Boyce, and Thompkins respectively are. Especially with their injuries considered, it makes all the sense in the world to trade up for a top 20 receiver who may be more physically gifted than all three and can take those NFL hits or has that elite top flight speed.
Or, as explained earlier, the whole team official leak could be a smokescreen for other teams to grab wide outs in the first round before the rich gets richer.
I’m fine with drafting any position in the first round, but snatching a big name wide out, in the first round for once, who could legitimately be a future Pro Bowler and consistent weapon for the 37 year old American legend, would certainly be a power move for the suddenly balanced Patriots.

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