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What do the Patriots look for when they draft a wide receiver?

04.27.11 at 12:28 am ET
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Good speed. Nice hands. Dependability and toughness. All traits the Patriots look for when it comes to drafting a wide receiver. But New England also loves its’ coneheads ‘€” that is, prospects who starred in the 3-cone drill.

The drill ‘€”a standard at the combine and collegiate pro days ‘€” starts with a player in a three-point stance before three cones that are set up in a triangle or L-shape before them five yards apart. The player starts at the first cone and sprints up to the second cone and then back again. Then, they head back to the second cone where they run around it and cut right to the third cone. The players then run a circle around the third cone from the inside to the outside and run around the second cone before returning to the first cone. (Check out a complete breakdown of the drill here at NFL.com.)

The drill is designed to test agility and footwork, and when it comes to measuring the abilities of wide receivers and defensive backs, it’s a drill the Patriots seem to put a lot of stock in. At wide receiver, Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman all had extraordinary 3-cone times at either the combine or at their pro day. (In addition, both Chad Jackson and Matthew Slater, both of whom were drafted as wide receivers but struggled at the position in New England, also had great times in the 3-cone drill as collegians.)

While the Patriots are likely going to try and find a burner, what sort of wide receivers might become the next generation of coneheads in New England? Here are three possibilities:

Alabama’s Julio Jones: Jones has a few things going for him when it comes to the Patriots: he also placed in the Top 10 among receivers at the combine in the 3-cone drill, finishing with a 6.66. The fact that he attended a school where a former Bill Belichick lieutenant is in charge (Nick Saban) means the Patriots will get the straight story when it comes to Jones’ reported foot problems. In addition to the footwork and agility, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder answered any questions about his character by competing in the drills at the combine in February while hobbled with the aforementioned foot injury. (He also gained a rep as one of the best blocking receivers in college football last season, and that ability would be utilized frequently in New England.) Considered one of the top wide receivers in the draft, the Patriots would likely have to trade up between 5-7 spots from the No. 17 spot if they wanted a shot at him, but he’s an eminently draftable prospect for New England. (For what it’s worth, the Patriots have never drafted a wide receiver in the first round under Belichick.)

Maryland’s Torrey Smith: His 3-cone time of 6.72 left him just outside the Top 10 for wide receivers at the combine, but the combination of agility and his big-play speed make him an enviable target. (He ran a 4.43 40 at the combine, fourth-best among wide receivers.) The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Smith caught 67 passes for 1,075 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. In addition, he also has special teams skills ‘€” as a sophomore, he broke his own record with 1,309 kickoff return yards (and 2,129 all-purpose yards), which included two kicks returned for touchdowns. He’s also considered a high-character individual ‘€” the oldest of seven, he overcame some difficult odds to become the first person in his family to collect a college degree. Considered a late first-round or early second-round pick, he could still be on the board at either No. 28 or No. 33 if the Patriots are interested.

Oregon’s Jeff Maehl: We’ve already written about Maehl as a late-round possibility, but we’ll include him here as well. At 6-foot and 181 pounds, he’€™s not the biggest receiver available, but Maehl’s agility (his 6.42 in the 3-cone at the combine was best among all wide receivers) and his hands (he ended his career at Oregon with 24 receiving touchdowns, tied for the most in school history) make him a late-round possibility. He’€™s certainly not a deep threat, but appears to be the sort of smart, nimble-footed receiver the Patriots usually covet.

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Bill Belichick, Chad Jackson, Deion Branch
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