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Will the Patriots Target a Receiver Early in the 2023 NFL Draft? They May Ultimately Need to

Ian Logue
Ian Logue on Twitter
1 month ago at 10:53 am ET
Posted Under: 2023 Patriots Draft

Will the Patriots Target a Receiver Early in the 2023 NFL Draft?  They May Ultimately Need toDavid Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots have a fair amount of talent at the receiver position, but they’re still in need of an impact wideout to complement their current group of skill players on offense.

As we know, that’s generally not a position they’ve traditionally targeted in the early rounds, and it remains to be seen if they’ll change course this offseason.

So far, based off of pre-draft interest in various players, the club certainly appears to be leaning in that direction.  The club has recently held visits with Stanford’s Michael Wilson, Boston College’s Zay Flowers, Ohio State University’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and USC’s Jordan Addison.  Given last year’s selection of second-round pick, Baylor wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, it’s clear that the days of being apprehensive in taking a wideout high appears to be in the rear-view now that Bill Belichick has entrusted Matt Groh and his staff, who overall put together one of the best draft classes in recent memory in 2022.

The big question seems to be just how high they’re willing to go in targeting that position.  Obviously, the last time they took a receiver in the first round was back in 2019 for Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry, which ended up being a disaster.  Harry was never able to take the next step in the NFL and was still lining up in the wrong spot in his third season with the team, with then-rookie quarterback Mac Jones having to tell the veteran where to line up during a game that season.

New England finally parted ways with Harry at the end of that 2021 campaign, with Harry being sent to Chicago in exchange for a 7th-round selection.  He didn’t fare much better in the windy city, suffering an ankle injury during training camp before missing the majority of the year and finishing with just seven receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown.  He caught one of those passes for 14 yards in last year’s meeting against his former club at Gillette Stadium.

After the Harry Disaster, Would the Patriots Take a WR Again in Round 1?

The thought of the Patriots taking a receiver again that high seems hard to believe, but the landscape around the NFL is changing to the point where if someone talented enough is available, it’s hard not to consider it.  Several of the most successful young quarterbacks around the league each have a young talented receiver, which obviously changes everything since teams end up enjoying significant value at two key positions.

But talented free-agent receivers are seeing their value explode in recent years.  Contracts are at an all-time high, which has made things difficult for teams looking for help at that position.

In New England, it’s made things tough.  The Patriots used to have players like Julian Edelman, who they used as a measuring stick against both free agents and their own players when it came to contracts.  That left them being able to have some control in not overpaying for a player, but those days have more or less come to an end.   Edelman’s long gone, and talented players are getting maximum value if they’re both healthy and productive.

In the past, New England has gamed the system to a certain extent, with Belichick targeting guys who are coming to the end of their rookie deals by trading for them, while ending up with good value there.  But given how high the value has increased for receivers, teams are now demanding first-round picks.  Knowing how much Belichick and the Patriots covet draft choices, especially first-round selections, it essentially makes things more challenging.

Instead, it makes more sense to just use the selection on a prospect, since the club then has them at a much lower value for potentially five years, if they pick up the fifth-year option.

Will the Patriots add more firepower at WR in the 2023 Draft? (PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

Obviously, the latter situation is a little riskier since it’s certainly easier to trade for a known commodity compared to a player who might not pan out.  But it’s clear whatever formula the team has in place has been working, with the club enjoying a significant amount of success the last two offseasons, with last year being one of their best so far.

The Patriots Still Need OT Help.  Badly.

The next question is simply whether or not the Patriots have other players higher on their draft board.  Many of the mock drafts have the Patriots taking an offensive tackle in the first round, which certainly makes sense given that they need to start putting together a foundation there moving forward.  Trent Brown appears to possibly be making a move back to right tackle, with newcomers Reilly Reiff and Calvin Anderson potentially among players seemingly set to compete on the left side.

How things play out would solve things for 2023, but New England still needs a long-term solution at tackle, especially after letting Isaiah Wynn depart this offseason after he didn’t pan out.  They need youth at the position, and it quietly remains a pretty big deficiency that will have to be addressed at some point.

With that in mind, it would seem to possibly rule out seeing them take a receiver in the first round.

Still, it’s possible that if the tackle they want isn’t available, they could switch gears and target someone like Flowers in round one, and use a second-round selection in round two on a tackle, potentially on someone like Alabama’s Tyler Steen, who several mocks have being taken in round 2 and he’s someone that Mike Reiss pointed out in his recent Sunday column was among guys Jim Nagy believed would be a fit the Patriots.

Flowers seems to be the guy getting the most buzz here in New England as of late, and he’s also a player whose stock has risen, with recent mocks seeing him gone in the first round.  Oddly enough, a recent one from Sports Illustrated has the Chiefs selecting him with the 31st overall pick to try and replace the loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is obviously now here in New England.

How things play out will be interesting to watch, but if ever there was a season where the Patriots could use some additional firepower, this would be the year.

Most of their defense returns intact, and if they can continue bolstering their secondary and achieve similar success getting after the quarterback, they should be in the mix.  That’s, of course, provided the offense can do what they struggled to do last year and put points on the board.

Adding an explosive receiver would certainly help achieve that. Whether or not that’s the direction they go will be one of the biggest questions in the coming weeks, especially for a team looking to get back into the fray both within their own Division and the AFC, both of which have unfortunately become increasingly more competitive in recent years.

Posted Under: 2023 Patriots Draft
Tags: 2023 Patriots Draft Mac Jones New England Patriots Zay Flowers

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