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Feeling the draft: Wide receivers

01.25.10 at 1:27 am ET
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WEEI.com is the place to be for everything you need to know about the 2010 NFL Draft. We’re kicking off the draft coverage by going through the Patriots’ depth chart, position by position, and telling you which players the Pats could target come late April.

Defense:

Cornerback

Safety

Outside Linebacker

Inside Linebacker

Defensive End

Defensive Tackle

Offense:

Tackle

Guard/Center

Tight End

WIDE RECEIVER

State of the position: Randy Moss (1 year remaining), Isaiah Stanback (1 year remaining), Wes Welker (2 years remaining), Julian Edelman (3 years remaining), Sam Aiken (3 years remaining), Brandon Tate (3 years remaining).

The reality is that this goes much deeper than trying to find a viable replacement for Jabar Gaffney. In addition to solving the problem at No. 3 receiver, the Patriots need to pay attention to the fact that Moss is entering the final year of his contract and that they may need a No. 1 receiver before all is said and done. Edelman proved himself enough as a rookie to be entrusted as the slot receiver until Welker returns, but at the very least the Patriots need to find someone— whether it’s Brandon Tate, one of the free agents below (the Pats made a big play for Mason back in 2005), or someone in the draft— who can contribute as a No. 3.

Potential free agents of note: Brandon Marshall (restricted), Miles Austin (restricted), Braylon Edwards (restricted), Vincent Jackson (restricted), Antonio Bryant, Derrick Mason, Terrell Owens.

WIDE RECEIVERS IN THE DRAFT TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

Dez Bryant: Junior, Oklahoma State, 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.

2009 stats: 17 catches, 323 yards, 4 TD through three games (suspended for season).

What he brings: Hands, vertical leap, return skills.

Where the Patriots could get him: Top 15 (trade).

Despite a season-ending suspension, Bryant, to borrow a lyric from one William Martin Joel, is an innocent man. Yes, he texted back and forth with Deion Sanders and ate dinner with him, but such activity is not illegal. When the NCAA checked in with Bryant to see if Sanders had been promoting an agent, Bryant, thinking meeting with Sanders may have been illegal without his knowing, denied any contact and was promptly suspended for his dishonesty. Is that really enough to slap the “character issues” label on the draft’s best receiver? Hardly, but the Patriots could only hope that it scares enough teams away to make a move up manageable. Bryant possesses the Moss-like ability to reel in anything thrown his way but is not a burner, though considering he would be the team’s third receiver such a trait isn’t absolutely necessary. The offense already has its deep threat and more than enough slot receivers, so Bryant would appear to be the possession receiver that fills out Tom Brady’s arsenal.

Arrelious Benn: Junior, Illinois, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds.

2009 stats: 38 catches, 490 yards, 2 TD.

What he brings: Speed, return skills, blocking.

Where the Patriots could get him: No. 22.

Benn may be the biggest risk/reward receiver of the draft because his production was unremarkable with a horribly inaccurate quarterback. Benn was slowed early on in his junior season by a right ankle sprain and had more than four catches in a game just twice all season, but his sophomore production (67 catches, 1055 yards, 3 TD) are the best that his college stat sheet has to offer. Though his numbers don’t compare to the likes of Brandon LaFell and Golden Tate (see both below), among others, Benn could have one of the better performances at next month’s combine considering his speed. A good showing in both the 40 and catching drills should let scouts chalk up his seven career receiving touchdowns more to having the erratic Juice Williams throw him the ball and less to his skill set. Still, will he be Hakeem Nicks or Darius Heyward-Bey?


Brandon LaFell: Senior, LSU, 6-foot-3, 209 pounds.

2009 Stats: 57 catches, 792 yards, 11 touchdowns.

What he brings: Red-zone target, hands, size.

Where the Patriots could get him: No. 22/ Round 2.

This may be the best option for the Patriots if they do indeed take a receiver in the first two rounds. Though it is still very early in the process, some may be shocked to see LaFell considered a first-round pick, but based on his size and hands it is very possible that a team will deem him worth reaching for. The Patriots could be that team given that he may be able to give them what they need without having to move up. All of that having been said, the Patriots could also view him as a reason to stockpile even more picks, as they could feel safe moving down a few spots considering that the Ravens (25) are the only team that poses a threat of taking him in between the Patriots’ pick and the top of the second round.

Golden Tate: Junior, Notre Dame, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds.

2009 stats: 93 catches, 146 yards, 15 touchdowns.

What he brings: YAC, lower body strength, return skills.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 2.

Preface: send your hate mail to djbean@weei.com. Tate will be great for somebody, but it shouldn’t be the Patriots. The former running back seems better-suited as a slot receiver, and that’s the one of the few places in the offense that doesn’t need addressing. This is no knock against Tate— he may very well be the most talented receiver in this draft, but even in the second round he would still be an irresponsible pick for a team that will have Edelman nipping at Welker’s heels once No. 83 returns.

Other wide receivers the Patriots could consider:

Damian Williams: Junior, USC, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. Transferring after a year at Arkansas worked out. Runs routes better than any of the guys mentioned above, as Boston College learned in the Emerald Bowl.

Demaryius Thomas: Junior, Georgia Tech, 6-foot-3, 229 pounds. Great size and strength to go with the eight touchdowns he reeled in during his final season.

Jordan Shipley: Senior, Texas, 6-foot-0, 190 pounds. Like Tate, would be just one of many slot receivers on the Patriots. Another bad fit.

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