The Patriots have a need for speed. And for receivers, but that doesn’t sound as cool.
New England needs to fill out a receiving corps in which Julian Edelman caught 100 passes last season despite numerous injuries, but no other receiver hauled in more than 29 (Phillip Dorsett). If the quarterback is to be Tom Brady, a better surrounding cast might be among the critieria to make that happen.
The Patriots aren’t quite as receiver poor as they might seem. Edelman is a top-tier player, Mohamed Sanu has a long track record of quality play, N’Keal Harry was a first-round pick, and all three of those players may be healthier next year than they were last year. The receiving corps is unbalanced, though, and what they lack in particular is pure speed, the ability to create separation with that speed. Look for the Patriots to try to add that this offseason.
Here are some receivers the Patriots could look at in free agency and in the draft, with some of the faster options and best fits highlighted.
The biggest names available are Amari Cooper, A.J. Green, Emmanuel Sanders, Robby Anderson, Randall Cobb, Breshad Perriman, Danny Amendola, Devin Funchess, and Nelson Agholor. There’s also the Patriots’ own Dorsett.
Cooper is probably too expensive. Sanders is an interesting option, given that the Patriots looked at him before the 2019 trade deadline, but his value is up after a strong second half in San Francisco.
Green fits the bill but is high-risk/high-reward because he’s played in only 35 of a possible 64 games over the past four seasons because of injuries. He missed all of 2019 after tearing ligaments in his left ankle during training camp. He’s also 31, though that’s a pro and a con because Brady loves veteran wideouts. Green is the vertical presence the Patriots need, the question is whether his injury history will be an issue or merely serve to make Green affordable.
Anderson is an interesting option. He caught 52 passes for 779 yards and 5 touchdowns for the Jets last season. He’s never had a 1,000-yard season but he’s only 26 and he is the kind of outside speedster the Patriots don’t have. We’ve seen receiver markets get out of hand over the last few years and that could happen with Anderson, but the cost may not wind up prohibitive here. Anderson has had some off-field incidents — he was arrested twice in eight months in 2017 an 2018. He made $3 million last season in New York.
Amendola is a Brady bestie but the Patriots would have to get over his departure in 2018. Amendola signed with Miami and made social media posts in which he expressed displeasure with some of the heavier-handed elements of the Patriots’ culture, as well as with Bill Belichick for benching Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl. He’s also 34 and is not going to markedly change the offense.
Perriman is especially fast, but is perhaps too unreliable for the Patriots’ tastes.
It’s a great year to need a good receiver in the draft. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a dozen or more go in the first two rounds.
While Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy should come off the board long before the Patriots pick at No. 23, there are several first-round talents should the Patriots want to select a receiver in the first round for the second straight year.
Henry Ruggs III, Jeudy’s teammate, is one option who would inject serious athleticism into the offense. He hasn’t had crazy production (40 receptions, 746 yards, 7 touchdowns in 2019), partly because he is surrounded by good players, but he could run a sub-4.3 40-yard-dash this spring. According to Pro Football Focus, Ruggs averaged 9.0 yards after the catch in college.
Another possibility is Colorado’s Laviska Shenault, a speedy, all-around offensive weapon (someday this will be an actual position). He’s 220 pounds and expected to run a sub-4.40 40 but, like Ruggs, has had limited production. Still, if the Patriots are looking at the Chiefs and thinking they want someone to get the ball to and wait for good things to happen, Shenault is one of those guys.
Some of the other top options in this year’s draft are Tee Higgins, Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk (college teammate of N’Keal Harry), Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Michael Pittman Jr.