5 Wide Receivers the Patriots Should Be Watching at 2016 NFL Scouting Combine
When looking for receivers to fit the New England Patriots offense, the first boxes to check are for versatility, football intelligence, hands and sharp route running.
Some of those boxes are hard for outsiders to check, because the teams will have a much better idea of what they're looking at than we do, thanks to their extensive contacts within each college team and their private interactions with those players.
Versatility can be gleaned from a player's college experience, hands and route running can be gleaned from tape and workouts and intelligence will only really be known to the teams that get the player up on the whiteboard to test his football IQ.
But these are all answers the Patriots can get at the scouting combine, so here's a handful of receivers they should be looking at closely.
Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
When it comes to running routes, the Patriots know exactly what they're getting with Pittsburgh receiver Tyler Boyd. He has quickness off the line of scrimmage, and he knows how to run his routes and use fakes to set up defenders to be left in the dust.
The 6'2", 200-pound receiver has experience playing all over the field, but CBS Sports' Dane Brugler said, "[Boyd's] ideal NFL fit is in the slot in a Jarvis Landry-type role." The problem is, at that size, there are questions about his durability if he catches a lot of passes over the middle. He could always add some bulk, though, and an NFL strength and conditioning program might be exactly the way to do it.
One thing he needs to work on, though, is ball security. Look at the picture above; Boyd's idea of high and tight is more like low and loose. He had five fumbles in 2015, and he's not going to stay on the field too long if that continues with the Patriots.
With that said, he has the natural receiving ability to fit the system. Unless the Patriots think Danny Amendola is going to be around forever, it's never too early to start looking for the slot receiver of the future.
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
Well, Leonte Carroo certainly wouldn't be the first player the Patriots drafted out of Rutgers. He also wouldn't be the first undersized receiver to join the team. But the team would be wise to consider him for more than just his college affiliation, and despite his lack of size.
The 5'11", 217-pounder is a savvy route-runner with the foot quickness to deceive cornerbacks and take advantage. There are some questions about his long speed, though, as NFL.com's Lance Zierlein noted that he "benefited from Rutgers' offensive system" that made use of play-action passes to help him get behind the defense.
There will never be any question about his desire to block in the running game. Rutgers' offense required him to get his hands dirty as a blocker frequently and to be effective in doing so. There won't be many questions about his versatility, either, as he has shown the willingness to pitch in on special teams.
The Patriots are always looking for this kind of receiver to join their lineup, and while Carroo doesn't add anything they don't already have in terms of size, he does add enough value to make him a worthy pick in the third or fourth round.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Braxton Miller wouldn't be the first wide receiver drafted by the Patriots from one of Urban Meyer's collegiate football programs, but after drafting Chad Jackson in 2006, they would be hoping that Miller would be the first such receiver to succeed at the NFL level.
At 6'1" and 204 pounds, Miller would immediately be one of the bigger receivers on the Patriots' roster. Being that he's so new to the position, though, he still has much to learn about running crisp routes. The Patriots will be watching his three-cone drill, one of the best indicators of foot quickness, to see how much potential he has to improve in that area.
According to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net, the Patriots are among three teams with early interest in the Ohio State wide receiver. And it makes sense. The former quarterback made the switch to receiver in 2015 and finished fourth on the team with 25 receptions for 340 yards and three touchdowns while also taking 43 rush attempts for 261 yards and a touchdown.
So, while he is still very new to the position, he has a high ceiling. Also, a certain Patriots wide receiver named Julian Edelman knows a thing or two about the advantages of switching from quarterback to receiver. Quarterbacks have a deeper understanding of coverages, how to beat them and how certain routes should be run against them.
Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
Time and time again, the Patriots have shown that they truly do not care about the size of their wide receivers. It's like extra credit: nice to have, but there are qualities that are more important.
South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper lacks size but makes up for it with everything else.
The 5'11", 207-pound receiver has a short, stocky build, which should help him over the middle in theory. I say "in theory," because, according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, it appears that's where he struggles. "Contested catches became a chore," and his "hip tightness creates rounded routes and limited wiggle after catch," Zierlein said. He also had "limited route exposure" while at South Carolina.
Yet, with all those negatives working against him, the Patriots should still check him out at the scouting combine.
There, they can meet with him, get him up on the whiteboard and test his football knowledge and his potential for quickly learning a system as complicated as the Patriots'. They can also see, through his testing numbers, whether he would have the quickness to do all the necessary planting, cutting and wiggling they ask of receivers.
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Two receivers from the same school on the same list? Sure, why not? I could have even done three, if I included Jalin Marshall, but Michael Thomas is the best of Ohio State's wide receivers.
The 6'3", 209-pounder has the size to be the X-receiver of the future for the Patriots. Brandon LaFell won't be around forever, and Thomas would be a great heir to that role. He would immediately add another red-zone threat because of his size and leaping ability, but he's also shown the pure athleticism in terms of quickness and acceleration to fit the Patriots offense.
He wasn't asked to run many vertical routes, so scouts will be closely watching his 40-yard-dash times to see how he tests in long speed. Much like his teammate, Braxton Miller, Thomas also has to work on his route running, and according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, he sometimes looks like he's "thinking rather than just playing."
As if his head won't be swimming enough in the Patriots offense already. But if the Patriots put him up on the whiteboard and he displays the ability to quickly pick up concepts and retain information that's been thrown at him, he already has the tools to be a solid boundary threat.