Everyone keeps raving about how this could be the greatest QB draft class in NFL history. But the wide receiver class is pretty impressive as well, and not just at the top. Sure, college football is evolving into a more pass friendly game, hence some of the gaudy stats. But once you get past the premier first round names - Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle - you’ll find a heap of talented, fast, elusive pass catchers available in later rounds, some ready to make an impact from Day One in the pros. Here are five we cold see matriculating their way to Foxboro, and a couple more names to watch out for.
NB - WEEI and the Audacy Sports Network is not responsible for any Draft crushes you develop and subsequent disappointment you feel when you hope the Patriots pick “your guy at receiver” because we all know Bill Belichick zigs when you believe he needs to zag.
TUTU ATWELL, LOUISVILLE
This little guy guy can flat out fly. And when I say little I mean the former Cardinal will likely be the lightest receiver ever drafted come end of April. But sometimes big things come in small packages, as Atwell posted crazy numbers the last full season he played in 2019, with almost 1300 yards receiving and 12 TDs. He’s known as a big play threat, and comps to Marquise Brown of the Ravens. His speed, quickness and ability in the slot or downfield could be attractive to the Patriots especially with the recent addition of Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor.
SHI SMITH, SOUTH CAROLINA
Some say Smith, who didn’t blow anyone away at his Pro Day could be a Day One starter in the NFL at the slot. So if he is a speedster what’s the attraction? You aw the catch in the highlight above, plus the former Gamecock has all the other receiver tools you covet at his disposal - footwork, hands, quickness and precise route running. Our pal and local football savant Phil Perry has been all over Smith for a while now because of his complete pro-ready package. Deebo Samuel, his former college teammate and current 49er, is a comp, and a player many thought the Patriots would draft, including Samuel himself. Deebo wants Smith to join the Niners. Maybe Belichick doesn’t let a certified playmaker who could be heir to the slot escape this time, especially when he can contribute immediately and could be available at mid-round value.
DYAMI BROWN, NORTH CAROLINA
Sure, the bigger names get all the buzz, but fact remains the best deep ball receiver in college football the past two seasons didn’t play in the SEC. He played in the ACC, and not for Dabo Swinney. Dyami Brown, far from a household name, averaged 20 yds a catch the past two seasons. In 2020 he had 1100 yards and 8 TDs in 11 games, which followed a 1034 yard/12 TD 2019. Yes, it helped that he was catching passes from likely 2022 1st round pick Sam Howell. But this is a big target with good hands who’s not a burner but finds a way to get it done deep. And on a Patriots team desperate for a deep threat this likely Day 2 talent could be a steal, a regulah sleepah there, guy!
D’WAYNE ESKRIDGE, WESTERN MICHIGAN
The definition of “How good could he be if I never heard of the place he went to school?”, Eskridge is a burner, clocking a lightning fast 40 at his Pro Day. But it’s more than straight sprints in the pros, and the former Bronco has a high ceiling. He knows how to score (8 TDs in just 6 games in 2020), is older (24) and, get this, was named Mid-American Conference special teams player of the year. He’ll likely be a mid-rounds pick, and could add immediate value in New England. Only if he long-snapped the ball or played at Rutgers could he be more perfect for the Pats.
ELIJAH MOORE, MISSISSIPPI
The Patriots whiffed famously in their selection of N’Keal Harry in the 1st round of the 2019 Draft, passing on Ole Miss prospects who became NFL studs in AJ Brown and DK Metcalf. You can’t help but wonder if Belichick might not want to get a third strike and dip in the Rebel well for a productive burner like Moore, who clocked a blazing 4.35 at his pro day. He might soon be less under the radar thanks to that speed, his shuttle time, the 1,200 yards in a COVID shortened 2020 season, his pedigree, and highlight reels like this. Also he believes in himself, but is a man of faith and humble. Will the Pats finally give a Rebel Yell and let him test that confidence in Foxboro?
A FEW MORE WORTH KEEPING AN EYEBALL EMOJI ON ...
Demetric Felton, UCLA - The WR/RB hybrid is someone who I highlighted in the Armchair GM series as a potential perfect Patriot. He had a great Senior Bowl, didn’t exactly rip it up at his Pro Day (4.55 40) but had great moves all over the formation and in the backfield. Could be a mid-to-late round grab to groom as a James White replacement.
Dazz Newsome, UNC - Shifty slot receiver out of Tar Heel country who is a separation specialist. Dyami Brown got the downfield glory, Newsome just found ways to get open, and at times sneak it into the house, like with his impressive 10 TDs in 2019. Could be a great Day 3 snag.
Anthony Schwartz, Auburn - Not exactly the most prolific receiver in terms of TDs or receptions, then again he didn’t exactly go to the most prolific passing school (no disrespect, Cam or Stid). But when someone runs a 4.26 at their Pro Day?Damn.
Amari Rodgers, Clemson - I’ve professed my fondness for Rodgers, the son of former Tennessee Volunteer Tee Martin, in the AGM series. He played four years at Clemson. He’s a national champion. That’s pro quality experience. Undersized but sturdy, great hands, good first move and a return specialist, too. Practically can smell the color rush navy on him already.
Sage Surratt, Wake Forest - A big target who opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, Surratt was rock solid at the Senior Bowl, and had a phenomenal 2019. Could be a later round developmental value pick who might blossom into a solid pro.
Josh Palmer, Tenn - The Tennessee football program has fallen on hard times in recent year, and talented wideouts like Palmer seem to have suffered for it. Most evaluators agree he has the size and skill to succeed at the next level. He won’t be a plug-and-play pro, but if given the time to develop he might blossom. One look at his build and the way he moves and you’d think this guy has Sunday talent.