FOXBOROUGH — We’ll see.
The Patriots finally joined the draft Friday night, nearly 24 hours after it started, with the selection of Southern Miss linebacker/end Jamie Collins with the 52d overall pick. He’ll make an instant impact on special teams and will likely get into the mix as a coverage linebacker with some situational pass-rush ability.
The Patriots later added two Rutgers products — solid corner Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon (Bill Belichick’s annual “who the heck is that?” pick), but it’s the second pick who will have the most eyes on him in training camp.
With the 59th overall selection, the Patriots waded back into the receiver pool with Marshall’s Aaron Dobson.
They’re hoping he can break the streak. Everybody knows the Patriots’ record since 2002 when it comes to drafting wideouts.
Since hitting on Deion Branch and David Givens in ’02, the Patriots have drafted eight receivers: Bethel Johnson (2003, second round); P.K. Sam (’04, fifth round); Chad Jackson (’06, second); Matthew Slater (’08, fifth); Brandon Tate (’09, third); Julian Edelman (’09, seventh); Taylor Price (’10, third); Jeremy Ebert (’12, seventh).
Only Slater, as a special teams captain, and Edelman, with 69 career receptions in four seasons, have met or exceeded their draft position.
The rest were failures.
So it’s with a “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude that at least some Patriots fans will be watching Dobson.
There’s certainly a lot to like about Dobson. He’s big (6 feet 2¾ inches, 211 pounds) with good speed (4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and hands. Basically, he fits everything the Patriots are looking for in an “X” boundary/vertical receiver — something they’ve lacked since Randy Moss was traded.
It’s a vital, missing piece in this offense. The Patriots have the two-headed tight end monster with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They have two small and quick “Z” receivers in Danny Amendola and Edelman to catch the short passes and work the slot position.
What the Patriots need, to really make defenses cover sideline to sideline and vertically, is a dangerous receiver on the outside. Dobson could certainly be that guy. He fits the profile.
“He’s big, he’s fast, he’s got good hands, smart,” coach Bill Belichick said Friday night. “He has some position flexibility and versatility, catches the ball very well. We’ll see how it goes.”
He also fits the profile of the players that have busted before him. Athletic. Raw. Needs some development. Played in a spread offense so the route tree he has run has been limited. His Wonderlic cognitive ability test score of 19 is decent, but certainly far from the 26 that Branch had. Here’s hoping he’s more along the line of Givens (18), than Price (19), Tate (20) or Johnson (20).
Because what has become apparent with the Patriots is it doesn’t much matter how fast a receiver is, or how high he jumps, or even how well he catches the ball. The player must be able to learn the playbook and see post-snap route adjustments exactly the same as quarterback Tom Brady, or the player will never see the field.
Dobson will also be compared to receivers that have never donned a Patriots uniform.
Belichick said he put Dobson through the intelligence wringer — game film, discussions, chalk talk on the whiteboard — and he passed with flying colors.
“I would say, yeah, he’s certainly in the upper group of [receivers the Patriots have drafted],” Belichick said. “You talk to him about what he did, he can explain it, the techniques, his assignments, what other guys are doing at Marshall. We’d look at things we did and then come back and talk about them, and he remembered how we did them, what we called them and things like that.
“He’s a pretty intelligent guy. He has good recall of what he did and why they did it and he had a good understanding and grasp and learning, of taking new information and processing that and being able to understand it and apply it. There’s different ways of measuring and all that, but I think he’s a pretty impressive kid. He’s a mature kid and he’s pretty smart.”
So there’s hope in that ever-important area when it comes to Dobson.
The Patriots decided it would be better to trade the 29th overall pick and gain three additional selections than to make a pick there. In the drop from 29 to 52, the Patriots gave up the opportunity to draft three other receivers: Cordarrelle Patterson (taken with the Patriots’ pick by the Vikings), Justin Hunter (34th, Titans), and Robert Woods (41st, Bills).
It’s similar to the decision the Patriots made in 2009. They hope this one works out a lot better.
In 2009, New England traded the 26th overall pick and a fifth-round pick for a second and two thirds.
The Packers drafted All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews, a player the Patriots’ defense definitely could have used.
The Patriots used one of those picks on Tate, who didn’t work out. Just like this year, the Patriots traded out of the first round and decided to find value later in the draft. Only one of their six selections in the second and third rounds in 2009 — tackle Sebastian Vollmer — is still on the team.
Maybe things will be different this time around. With offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and assistant Brian Daboll, the Patriots now have other eyes — two pairs that have been elsewhere in the NFL — to evaluate receivers.
On paper, Dobson could help the Patriots at a position of need. The garbage can is full of paper champions.
Time will tell which category Dobson and this draft strategy falls into.Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.