The initial wave of free agency is officially in the books, and the New England Patriots added a couple of intriguing players to the roster. However, they missed out on wide receivers Adam Humphries, Golden Tate, and Cole Beasley and need to find another wide receiver before the 2019 NFL Draft. While the big names may be gone, there are still a few possible New England Patriots wide receiver targets available on either the open market or in a trade.
Evaluating the Possible New England Patriots Wide Receiver Targets
The Oakland Raiders released Jordy Nelson on Thursday, and the Patriots should be interested in bringing the longtime Green Bay Packer into Foxboro. While he’s not the player he once was, Nelson still has enough in the tank to play a complementary role in New England’s offense. Nelson played in 15 games for Oakland, hauling in 63 receptions for 739 yards and three touchdowns. He did this despite drawing top coverage from opposing defenses and playing with an underwhelming quarterback in Derek Carr.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Nelson recorded 2.7 yards of separation per route in 2018. This number ranked close to the league average, showing Nelson still has the ability to separate against most cornerbacks in the league. Nelson can line up all across the formation and would serve as an immediate upgrade over Chris Hogan.
The New England Patriots clearly want more help in the slot, and the best slot receiver left on the open market is Randall Cobb. Just like Nelson, Cobb’s best days are likely behind him. The 2011 second-round pick has battled injuries and inconsistency over the past few seasons, finishing 2018 with just 38 receptions for 383 yards and two touchdowns in nine games played.
Cobb will never produce at an All-Pro level again, but he could fill Danny Amendola’s old role as the complementary slot receiver. Back in 2017, Cobb recorded 66 receptions for 652 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games. Cobb is an average slot receiver, but being average is a significant upgrade over Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris.
The Patriots should aim for somebody better than Hogan, but at least they know exactly what he brings to the table. In each of the past three seasons, Hogan has recorded between 34-38 receptions for 439-680 yards and three-five touchdowns. He obviously is familiar with the offense and has the trust of quarterback Tom Brady.
Hogan struggles to beat man coverage and really shouldn’t ever be anything more than the third-best wide receiver on any given team. However, after missing out on the top options in free agency, the Patriots could look to bring back their two-time Super Bowl champion
Honorable Free Agent Mentions
Chicago Bears wide receiver Kevin White never lived up to his seventh-overall draft billing, and Bill Belichick loves to make low-risk signings for high-talent flameouts. Former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree doesn’t have the speed to create separation, but he’s still good in the red zone and at hauling in contested catches. Pierre Garcon battled through injury for most of the past two seasons, but can still be effective when healthy. Dontrelle Inman had a solid season in Indianapolis and had an 810-yard season with the then-San Diego Chargers back in 2016. All four would be solid low-cost options, but none of these players should be at the top of New England’s wish list.
Absolutely nobody knows what Dave Gettleman and the New York Giants are doing. Trading Odell Beckham for pennies on the dollar and letting Landon Collins walk seemed to symbolize that New York was officially rebuilding. However, the team inexplicably signed 31-year old slot receiver Golden Tate to a hefty payday just one day after the Beckham trade. Tate primarily operates out of the slot, making Sterling Shepard an expendable asset.
Shepard has been a reliable and effective wideout since entering the league, recording 190 receptions for 2,286 yards and 14 touchdowns in his three seasons. The Patriots obviously want another slot receiver, as they heavily pursued Tate, Adam Humphries, and Cole Beasley. With Shepard entering the final year of his contract, both sides should be interested in striking a deal for the 26-year old.
As mentioned prior to free agency, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green would be a fantastic fit in free agency. When healthy, Green is a top-10 wide receiver and would immediately be New England’s best outside receiver since Randy Moss.
Green is entering the final year of his contract, and the Cincinnati Bengals have to be self-aware enough to know they won’t compete for anything in 2019. The Bengals are reportedly trying to sign Green to an extension, but they’d be open to moving him if the two sides cannot agree to a deal. New England has two second-round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft and could easily send one over to the Bengals in exchange for Green’s services.
The New England Patriots have minimal cap space, so they might pursue a trade for a restricted free agent. If they go that route, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins should be one of their top targets. Higgins recorded 39 receptions for 572 yards and four touchdowns in 2019 and he’d immediately enter New England as a starting wideout.
At 6’1”, 198 pounds, Higgins has the ideal build for a perimeter receiver. He doesn’t drop passes and catches just about anything that comes his way. He may not be a superstar, but he’s just 24 years old and knows how to get open. Tom Brady has the ability to make receivers look better than they actually are, and Higgins could have a 60-catch season if he came to New England and picked up the playbook.
Honorable Trade Target Mentions
Stefon Diggs would be a fantastic get for New England and the Minnesota Vikings desperately need to clear cap space. However, his contract became fully guaranteed today, thus making a trade all-but impossible. Chester Rogers had a productive season as the Colts top possession receiver and would be easy enough to acquire as a restricted free agent. Marvin Jones might not be available in a trade, but the Patriots have enough connections in Detroit that they should try to see if they can swing a deal for the talented wideout.
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