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Do Patriots still need to look to draft after signing Danny Amendola?

03.13.13 at 9:47 pm ET
By
Tavon Austin

Tavon Austin could be gone by the time the Patriots pick in the first round. (AP)

Is Danny Amendola enough to replace Wes Welker? Injury history says no, so the Patriots could keep an eye on what the draft has to offer as far as slot receivers go.

That could be dicey, as drafting receivers has obviously been a dicey affair for Bill Belichick and the Patriots in recent years. The Pats have swung and missed in the second round with guys like Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson, while third-rounders Taylor Price and Brandon Tate also failed to stick around. The best receiver they’ve drafted in the last five years is 2009 seventh-rounder Julian Edelman, a college quarterback.

While there are options in free agency, the Pats may have to turn to the draft to replace Welker. Here are a few guys who could fill his role:

Tavon Austin, West Viriginia, 5-foot-8 4/8, 174 pounds

Austin is the most electric receiver in the draft and his 4.34 40-time turned heads at the combine. Drops are believed to be a potential concern at the next level and he had some hiccups in pass-catching drills in Indianapolis. Still, his overall skill-set would make him a dynamic asset in the slot and a dangerous presence in the return game.

Additionally, Austin models his game after Welker’s.

“Wes Welker, that’s the No. 1 guy,” he said at the combine. “I see how Wes does it, I watch a lot of tape of him, and I think I move a little quicker and faster than Wes, so if he can do it, I know I can do it too.”

The issue with Austin is what it would take to get him. Austin’s stock has risen so much of late that he could potentially be the first receiver off the board, and if the Pats want him, they can’t just sit back and assume that he’ll be there at No. 29. You can argue whether it would be worth it to spend a first-round pick on a slot receiver, but what about moving up for one in the first round when the team doesn’t have many picks (1, 2, 3, 7, 7) to begin with?

Markus Wheaton, Oregon State, 5-foot-11, 189 pounds

A projected second-rounder, Wheaton played both in the slot and outside in college, where he was Oregon State’s all-time leader in receptions with 224. As a senior, he had 91 catches and 11 touchdowns.

Wheaton had a good showing at the combine with a 4.45 40-yard dash. He’s far less executing a prospect as Austin is, but he wouldn’t need to be the focal point of the Patriots’ draft, which is worth considering because they have greater needs than receiver. That could change if they fix their secondary in free agency, but for now, receiver shouldn’t be a first-round priority of theirs. If they want to wait a round and go for someone in the next tier, Wheaton would make sense.

Stedman Bailey, West Virginia, 5-foot-10 2/8, 193 pounds

He flies under the radar because of his teammate in Austin, but Bailey led the nation with 25 touchdowns and was a very productive player in his time at West Virginia. He doesn’t have elite speed like Austin and plays the game of someone with better size, but he’d be a logical slot receiver in the NFL.

“What I see is an instinctive, smart receiver that catches [the ball]; he’s a natural hands-catcher, and because Austin and Geno Smith get all of the attention, he kind of fell into the background,” Mike Mayock said of Bailey at the combine. “But if you watch him in the red zone on tape and his understanding and knowledge of route running and defenses, he’s one of the more smarter and instinctive receivers in this draft. I’d be surprised if he gets out of the third round.”

Denard Robinson, Michigan, 5-foot-10 4/8, 199 pounds

This would be a bit of a project and a guy the Pats could roll the dice on if he’s there in the later rounds. Robinson played quarterback for the vast majority of his college college career (much like Edelman) before being moved to receiver/running back late in his senior season, and his great athleticism and speed make for a pretty intriguing prospect as a slot receiver. His 4.42 40-yard dash was fifth among wide receiver prospects in Indianapolis, but that shouldn’t be a surprise when considering he was also a sprinter for the track and field team at Michigan.

Robinson is planning on throwing at his Pro Day this week, but it is to show how well he’s healed from an elbow injury. His intention is to play receiver at the next level, but how well he adjusts to a still relatively new position at a new level remains to be seen. He’d definitely be a risk/reward pick.

Read More: 2013 NFL draft, Danny Amendola, Tavon Austin, Wes Welker
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