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Patriots Still Searching For A WR

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After losing out on restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots could turn to the draft and USC's Robert Woods for more receiving options. Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.
After losing out on restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots could turn to the draft and USC's Robert Woods for more receiving options. Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.

Things were looking up for the Patriots this offseason. The team went out and signed a veteran strong safety in Adrian Wilson — a position that had escaped the Patriots talent-wise since Rodney Harrison’s retirement. They brought in Danny Amendola who, if healthy, could produce in ways similar to what Wes Welker did in the Patriots offense.

They re-signed Aqib Talib, who agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal, to patch a dismal defensive backfield from 2012. Things were falling into place for the Patriots.

But as soon as restricted free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ offer sheet provided by the Patriots was matched by Pittsburgh, the 2010 third-round Steelers draft choice was no longer an option for New England on the outside of its offense.

So far this offseason, the Patriots have accumulated a variety of receiving options. Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones are new to the offense, while Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Jeremy Ebert and the tight ends round out Tom Brady’s passing options.

But in 2010, the Patriots were big on Sanders in the draft, and were just a few selections away from being able to take him in the third round. The Steelers snagged him at pick No. 82, and eight selections later the Patriots took Taylor Price from Ohio. The Price experiment didn’t pan out, while Sanders steadily produced for Pittsburgh.

That brings us to now — a Patriots team with a seemingly tossed-together receiving corps and less than a week until the NFL Draft.

Many experts predict the Patriots will go after defensive backs or defensive linemen in the first round with the No. 29 pick. But perhaps, with Sanders no longer an option, the order of importance has reshuffled a bit for the Pats.

It’s impossible to predict what Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization will do with that pick – trade up with it, trade down, or use it to fill one of several depth needs. But let’s say wide receiver is now the top priority. Who will be available, either at No. 29 or in the later rounds?

Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson is listed as the top wide receiver in the draft, but several mock drafts have West Virginia’s Tavon Austin off the board before Patterson to St. Louis at pick No. 16. Between Patterson, Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, and Justin Hunter, any number of those names could be called in the first round.

For the Patriots, Clemson’s Hopkins and USC’s Woods make sense in the first round, and even Tennessee’s slightly overshadowed Hunter. All are over six feet tall, and have great downfield receiver qualities. With Amendola in the slot, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez manning the middle, the Patriots will need a viable outside threat. And it’s yet to be seen if any of the players on the current roster have what they are looking for.

Tennessee Tech receiver Da’Rick Rodgers makes sense in later rounds (second to fourth). He’s another bigger target (listed at 6-2, 217 pounds), but his off-the-field qualities were the main concern by scouts at the Combine.

Character issues don’t scare New England, and Rodgers has stated on numerous occasions he regrets everything that got him kicked off Tennessee’s football team. This is a guy with first-round talent who should be available come day 2 of the draft.

For the Patriots, it shouldn’t be a question of if the team will draft a wide receiver early, but when and who it should be. Yes, they haven’t had much success in recent years developing receivers. But this draft is too mid-round heavy at the position to pass up on, and the team has to put together a solid core of guys who will make Brady’s ability to evenly distribute the ball a serious weapon.