It’s no secret that the New England Patriots are looking for upgrades at wide receiver. After failing to acquire Adam Humphries, Golden Tate, and Cole Beasley, the Patriots will now turn to the 2019 NFL Draft to stock up on talent. While the Patriots could always pull off a trade, New England should still consider investing one of their early picks in a talented pass catcher. There are several talented receivers in this draft, but South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel jumps out as an immediate fit in New England’s offense.
New England Patriots 2019 NFL Draft Targets: Deebo Samuel
Deebo Samuel spent four years with the South Carolina Gamecocks, bringing home First-Team All-SEC honors as a Senior. Appearing in 12 games, Samuel recorded 62 receptions for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns. On top of that, Samuel added an additional 570 return yards and one touchdown on 23 kick return attempts.
Samuel is slightly undersized at 5’11” and 214 pounds, but size has never been an issue in New England. Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are arguably the two best receivers of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Era, and each player had similar measurements to Samuel.
Physical build is far from the only similarity between Samuel and those great New England receivers. The South Carolina product is an explosive route runner, capable of getting open when lined up outside and in the slot. His vision is second-to-none, as Samuel is an absolute monster in the open field. Welker and Edelman are both known for their ability after the catch, and Samuel has the same vision that made those two so great. In addition to his plus vision, Samuel has impressive straight-line speed. Samuel’s 4.48 40-yard dash time is actually better than Edelman’s (4.52) and Welker’s (4.65).
On top of that, Samuel plays with a fearlessness reminiscent of Edelman and Welker. There’s no real way to quantify this, but the game film speaks volumes. Samuel isn’t afraid to put his body on the line and does whatever’s asked of him without ever taking plays off.
As if that wasn’t enough, Deebo Samuel also offers special teams value. In addition to his work at receiver, Samuel spent time as South Carolina’s primary kick returner. Samuel showed a knack for the position, as his combination of speed and vision made him an ideal kick returner. Samuel averaged 29 yards-per-return during his collegiate tenure and returned four kicks for touchdowns. With Cordarrelle Patterson now on the Chicago Bears, Samuel can immediately contribute in the kicking game.
No prospect is without risk, and drafting Samuel comes with a few questions. The biggest issue is health, as the wide receiver battled injuries in three of his four collegiate seasons. Samuel appeared in 12 games as a Senior but only played in 15 combined games through his first three years. He battled a hamstring injury in 2016 and fractured his fibula in 2017. These are systemic injuries synonymous with a failing body, but it is concerning that he struggles to stay on the field.
The injury history is the only major red flag with Samuel, but he still needs to work on a few things before he’s ready to be a star wide receiver. The biggest problem with Samuel’s actual tape in his underwhelming catch radius. As a smaller receiver, Samuel isn’t great at catching off-target passes. Fortunately, he’d have Tom Brady as his quarterback, so that probably won’t be an issue. Neither Welker nor Edelman had the largest catch radius, and their careers turned out alright.
Like many smaller receivers, Samuel struggles to beat press coverage when a cornerback gets a hand on him. While Samuel develops, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can mask his deficiencies by aligning Samuel in stacked formations. Samuel should learn how to beat press coverage over time, but he probably won’t be able to do it consistently until at least 2020.
Deebo Samuel has all the tools to be the next great Patriots wide receiver, but he also carries significant risk. On the one hand, Samuel appears to be made in the same factory that produced Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. Samuel can line up all over the formation, although right now he’s at his best in the slot. He has a knack for finding the open part of the field and his speed and vision makes him extremely dangerous after the catch. His competitive toughness is second to none and his 11 touchdowns show he’s surprisingly effective in the red zone.
However, drafting Samuel does not come without risk. The South Carolina product only had one healthy season in college, which should obviously give the Patriots pause. Additionally, his subpar catch radius could be a problem in the not-so-distant future when Tom Brady isn’t throwing the ball. Samuel also needs to work on improving his separation ability against press coverage, but that’s not uncommon for smaller receivers coming out of college.
Ultimately, Samuel is a medium-risk, high-reward prospect who would immediately fit in New England’s offense if he stays healthy. With Julian Edelman entering the final year of his contract, Samuel could be next in line to take over slot receiver duties in New England’s offense. In the short-term, Samuel should find a home in the Danny Amendola role and as the Patriots’ primary kick returner. If he’s available, the Patriots should consider pulling the trigger with either of their second-round picks.
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