Top Three 2020 Patriots Rookie Free Agents

Oh, NOW they stock up on wide receivers.

It was OK that the Patriots didn’t draft a receiver in the first round. It was even OK that they passed on selecting an outside target on day two to compliment the two tight ends New England added in the third round.

But to go three days in a historically deep receiver pool and not even come away with ONE receiver to add to the competition? Seriously?

There were two glaring omissions from New England’s draft class – a defensive tackle to fortify the leaky run defense and a receiver. The latter was almost shocking because there was good quality that plummeted to the third day:

Fourth round: Gabriel Davis, Antonio Gandy-Golden

Fifth round: Joe Reed, Tyler Johnson, John Hightower

Sixth round: Donovan Peoples-Jones, James Proche, Dezmond Patmon

Seventh round: K.J. Hill

And the Patriots thought not a single one of these guys could upgrade arguably the worst receiver corps in the league?

New England needs speed. They need someone to take the top off the defense, keeping the safeties honest. N’Keal Harry doesn’t have it. 33-year-old Julian Edelman never was a deep threat before and that won’t change. Mohamed Sanu isn’t a speedster. Jakobi Meyers practically moves in slow motion.

Now do all the receivers selected between rounds four through seven have speed? No. But some of them did. As for those that didn’t run in the 4.4s, some were some good sized targets that made up for lacking track speed by knowing how to use their length and body to box out cornerbacks.

Following the draft, the Patriots treated the position like they were looking for toilet paper – they signed four rookie free agents and just added Devin Ross. Some have speed to spare, but all can’t shop at the NFL big and tall store. All five are six feet and under.

Speed alone won’t get them on the roster. The Patriots also added veterans Damiere Byrd and Marqise Lee, making the chances one of these young wide outs making the roster even harder.

But history is on RFA’s side. One has made the Patriots roster 16 years in a row. Meyers beat the odds last year, but that won’t stop New England from signing a RFA WR this year. Or maybe one makes the practice squad, meaning they have a foot in the door, ready to step up when the opportunity presents itself.

Hopefully one speedy receiver does crack the roster. Because without one, new TEs Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene will see a lot of congestion when they go over the middle.

Out of the rookie free agent class, these three are my favorites to either make the roster or the practice squad:

DE Bill Murray, William and Mary

What’s so funny about the kid having the same name as a comedic legend? Maybe you’ll take him seriously after watching his highlights.

Murray was an avalanche for the Tribe – blockers could barely stop him. If he wasn’t raising hell in the backfield, Murray was immovable in the middle. He capped his senior season as an All-America First Team selection by Hero Sports and an All-CAA second team selection. He led the team in sacks with 6.0, 11.5 tackles for a loss, and four blocked kicks, leading the nation at the FCS and FBS levels.

For his career Murray has 10 blocked kicks, making him a prime candidate for a special teams role if he makes team.

Not Impressed yet? Well Pro Football Focus broke down five of Murray’s games last season and he earned an 89.2 overall grade, with an elite 91.1 grade for run defense. That’s almost half of Murray’s games in 2019. So he’s not a fluke.

The question is whether Murray can be effective against tougher competition. He hasn’t seen this level of talent consistently before, if at all. He’s also undersized for the DT position at about 275 pounds.

After being a man among boys, Murray will be playing with the big kids. He needs to keep causing chaos, and that may start with special teams. If he can do that, Murray will make a name for himself.

WR Jeff Thomas, Miami

Why does Penn State’s K.J. Hamler get selected in the second round while Thomas, who brings similar skills in a similar build, waited for a phone call after Mr. Irrelevant’s name is called? Character.

According to The Miami Herald Thomas was dismissed from Miami by then coach Mark Richt in November of 2018. Thomas was given a second chance by new Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz, but continued to be a problem. Thomas eventually was suspended for two games in 2019.

But talent always gets repeated chances. Despite his inconsistency, Thomas could have a career in New England. At the NFL Combine Thomas ran a 4.45 40. His speed can be put to use in the slot, on the outside, and in the return game. But it all depends on Thomas being a good teammate first.

Thomas is compared to Kansas City’s Tyreke Hill, though it might not just be on the field. Maybe going undrafted is a wake-up call for Thomas to grow up. If he still doesn’t get it, the Patriots will send Thomas packing. He won’t get a second chance here if he strays out of line.

QB J’Mar Smith, Louisiana State

After the top six quarterbacks, there really wasn’t anyone that caught the eye. James Morgan didn’t complete 60 percent of his passes last season. Jake Fromm’s arm wouldn’t be effective in New England winters. Cole McDonald? Anthony Gordon? Both unimpressive.

Smith’s arm stood out first. The other traits – a 64.3 percent completion percentage, running ability, a three-year starter –made Smith appealing enough to bring to camp.

It would make a great story for Smith to go from undrafted to face of the franchise, but that probably won’t happen. But Smith could benefit the team on the practice field running scout teams.

New England will likely see Buffalo’s Josh Allen twice, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Houston’s Deshawn Watson, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, possibly Los Angeles Chargers’ Tyrod Taylor and Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa in 2020. That’s up to nine games against athletic passers.

Who better to impersonate any of these players than Smith? Smith doesn’t have blazing speed as a runner, but he was a willing runner for Louisiana Tech with 100 attempts and four touchdowns.

Smith might only get as far as the practice squad, but if he gives the defense good reps to prepare for their actual opponents, Smith would play a vital role in the Patriots’ success.

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