New England Patriots

Why Patriots' Best Bet for Adding Another WR Is Through NFL Draft

Draft, trade or free agency? Where Patriots should look for WR help originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki were a good start. But they're still not enough.

One opposing defensive coordinator openly admitted the New England Patriots were easy to defend against last season and that there "wasn't a matchup (his team) feared." So, if the Patriots want to be a serious playoff contender in 2023, they need to add another explosive wide receiver who can put that "fear" into defenses and help create mismatches.

The question is, where to find that wide receiver?

Patriots Talk: Why the Patriots are in a perfect spot in this year’s NFL Draft with PFF’s Steve Palazzolo | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

DeAndre Hopkins and Jerry Jeudy both would fit that mold, and both would be clear No. 1 wideouts on a New England depth chart featuring Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton. But recent reports have cast doubt on a trade for either player.

Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reported Thursday on NBC Sports Boston's "Early Edition" that the Patriots trading for Hopkins seems unlikely, in part due to his rocky past with current offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.

Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos reportedly are still holding out for "at least" a first-round pick in a trade for Jeudy, The Athletic's Jeff Howe reported Friday, adding that Denver would be content to keep Jeudy if a trade doesn't materialize. That could just be the Broncos playing hardball, but unless they blink and lower their price for Jeudy, a first-rounder is too steep of a price for a wideout who has already missed nine games through three NFL seasons.

On the free-agent front, the most enticing name left is Odell Beckham Jr., who reportedly is on New England's radar. Beckham is an elite receiver when healthy but sat out the entire 2022 season while recovering from ACL surgery and managed just 44 catches for 537 yards in free agency. He's also reportedly seeking a hefty contract in free agency.

If Hopkins and Jeudy are long shots and Beckham isn't worth the cost, that leaves the 2023 NFL Draft. And fortunately for the Patriots, there are several talented pass-catchers in this year's class.

BC coach explains why Zay Flowers would 'crush it' in Patriots' offense

USC's Jordan Addison, Ohio State's Jaxson Smith-Njigba, TCU's Quentin Johnston and Boston College's Zay Flowers all could be available for New England with the No. 14 pick. The Patriots were at Ohio State's pro day Thursday to scout Smith-Njigba, who is an excellent route-runner and could become Mac Jones' go-to target in the slot.

"Mac Jones could use a high-volume target who provides 'layup' throws on a consistent basis," our Phil Perry wrote of Smith-Njigba in a recent mock draft.

If it's Flowers the Patriots covet, they could trade down the land the Eagles wideout in the 20s, as Perry had New England doing in a March 14 mock.

"For Bill O'Brien, who we know has the ability to free up slot receivers in the Patriots offense, Flowers would be a dynamic do-it-all type," Perry wrote.

The elephant in the room is that Bill Belichick has a rough track record with wide receivers in the NFL draft. The Patriots have drafted a receiver just once in the Belichick era -- and they traded him last summer for a seventh-round pick (N'Keal Harry).

Based on the current landscape, however, the draft looks like the best (and cheapest) option for New England to bring in additional receiver talent and make its offense more formidable entering 2023.

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