Patriots Mailbag: WR trade targets and imagining an alternate draft

Patriots Mailbag: WR trade targets and imagining an alternate draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The 2024 NFL Draft is finally in the rearview mirror. But the Patriots' work has just begun.

Head coach Jerod Mayo's group of draft picks and undrafted free agents will be at Gillette Stadium later this week for rookie minicamp, with the veterans joining them for organized team activities later in the month.

And while No. 3 overall pick Drake Maye represents hope for the future, this team is very much still a work in progress. That was reflected in the questions you have about this team, which we'll tackle in our first post-draft mailbag.

Let's get to it...

Andrew, I see what you're saying here. Not sure that would've been a better path, though. Patrick Paul is not a surefire starter at left tackle either, it's my understanding. He has some incredible physical gifts, but he has his fair share of technical refining to do. And there were teams who had some injury concerns with him.

To me, getting a receiver like Polk who could end up being a security blanket of sorts -- because of his hands and toughness -- wasn't a bad way to go at No. 37 overall.

I found it interesting when Brian Hoyer joined us on draft weekend and explained how it was more important to find Drake Maye a go-to receiver rather than a left tackle because tackles can, at the end of the day, be helped. Receivers need to be able to win one-on-one in critical situations. Only so many rub routes you can run to help a pass-catcher execute in a tight spot.

Polk probably isn't a No. 1. And Caedan Wallace may not be a left tackle. But I think if you'd gone with Paul in the second round and a receiver in the third, your odds on filling those two needs -- the top-flight receiver and protector -- aren't much better.

The Patriots do, in fact, think they have a chance to find a left tackle in Wallace. He's practiced there in the past. But it's one thing to work on the opposite side of the line in a workout or an all-star game (as he did in the East-West Shrine Game). It's another to try to keep a $30 million-per-year edge rusher off your starting quarterback.

This is one of the fair second-guesses of the draft for the Patriots.

One pick before theirs, TCU's Brandon Coleman went off the board. He was a versatile player with NFL-caliber athleticism, who also happened to have 22 starts at left tackle to his name. Four picks before that, the Chiefs took Kingsley Suamataia. He was one of our seven Prototypical Patriots at tackle because of his length and movement skills, and he started all 11 games at left tackle last year for the Cougars.

New England was in move-up range for both and ended up with a player without legitimate left-tackle game experience.

David Bakhtiari, when healthy, has been one of the best left tackles in football over the last decade. He has two First-Team All-Pros to his name and three Second-Teams. He just hasn't been healthy.

He's missed the bulk of the last three seasons with left knee issues since tearing his ACL late in the 2020 season. Last year, he had season-ending surgery to repair a cartilage issue.

Probably better for the Patriots to see what they have in a younger option and go from there.

They don't have that guy right now, DCL, although Antonio Gibson is a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield. Both he and Rhamondre Stevenson can play in the passing game, and I think both will be used across situations in order to ensure that Stevenson isn't overworked as the team's top option at the position.

The easiest answer for me would be Xavier Legette. The Panthers ended up taking him at the end of the first round. I believe the Patriots would've liked to move up to the end of the first round and taken him themselves.

If Legette can go to a down-on-its-luck franchise and look like he has the chops to be a No. 1 receiver in the near future, that would have to sting at One Patriot Place. Even though they weren't able to scoot up the board to take Legette -- a potential game-changer for their passing attack -- would the Patriots ever tell themselves they should've offered more to guarantee they'd have a crack at him?

Near misses on players who went off the board just before the Patriots picked -- whether it's Legette, Suamataia or receiver Keon Coleman -- will be good players for us to follow moving forward.

They shouldn't be opposed to the idea, CGWLB. One name I've got my eye on right now? Bucs receiver Chris Godwin.

Tampa Bay is in a tight spot financially having just paid Mike Evans and Baker Mayfield. Godwin is going into the last year of his contract, and the team risks losing him for nothing more than a compensatory pick if they don't plan to re-sign him.

He may not be exactly what the Patriots need -- there's some overlap between his game and Polk's -- but he'd be another professional wideout to add to a room that could use as many guaranteed contributors as it can get.

It'll also be interesting to see if Seattle hangs onto both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Both their deals take them through the 2025 season.

Have a 53-man roster projection -- with a completely reshaped receiver room -- for you right here, Harrison.

Maybe a different atmosphere will do Tyquan Thornton some good. He will still be only 24 years old this year, and clearly he has one quality (speed) that is elite. But in 224 snaps offensively last year he recorded 0.66 yards per route run, which ranked 166th among wideouts.

There are elements to his game that need to be more consistent in order for him to make good on that second-round pick that was invested in him in 2022. We'll see if a change in the environment will be able to squeeze those out of him.

The Patriots have a few young guys at that spot who should be real contributors. Christian Gonzalez is the obvious one. Alex Austin showed he could hang during stretches of last season.

Don't forget about Marcus Jones, though. He's a next-level athlete who performed well as a rookie -- in all three phases -- and should be right back into the mix as a potential starter in the secondary this season.

Sure do, Trygve. Unless Caedan Wallace ends up being the left tackle this team needs moving forward, I could see that spot being an early target in next year's draft.

Hard to find those guys, because the physical demands of the job are so taxing, outside the first round. They might have a better shot at striking gold on a receiver -- even though, as Hoyer mentioned, that position is harder to help out -- either with a lower-level pick or a trade.

High-end tackles just don't seem to become available unless you're able to get one from the college ranks in the spring. Not true at wideout.

Here's what I think the Patriots draft class might've looked like had the Patriots rolled with a strict best-player-available approach...

  • Round 2, No. 34 overall: Illinois DT Johnny Newton

  • Round 3, No. 68 overall: Michigan WR Roman Wilson

  • Round 4, No. 103 overall: Iowa State CB T.J. Tampa

  • Round 4, No. 110 overall: Kansas ED Austin Booker

  • Round 6, No. 180 overall: Virginia WR Malik Washington

  • Round 6, No. 193 overall: Boston College OL Christian Mahogany

  • Round 7, No. 231 overall: Louisiana OT Nathan Thomas

As you can see, you end up with a greater emphasis on the defensive side of the ball with this approach. But you still nab a couple of wideouts and a couple of linemen. They all just come a little later than they did on draft weekend for the Patriots.

It's a good exercise, and there's always an argument for going with best player available. But that's a particularly effective strategy, seemingly, when a team's roster is already fairly well filled out. We know that wasn't the case for the Patriots.

I don't think so, Andrew. My guess at this stage is that Jacoby Brissett will start and both rookie quarterbacks will be allowed to develop behind the scenes.

If either rookie has a chance at starting, my guess is it would be Drake Maye, not Joe Milton. Maye is more polished when it comes to understanding defenses and throwing with anticipation than some have been willing to admit.

Great question, Sai. One of the best examples for that kind of shift is Tyron Smith, now with the Jets. The longtime Cowboys left tackle -- an eight-time Pro Bowler and a five-time All-Pro at left tackle -- was a right tackle at USC. Smith actually began his pro career at right tackle and quickly made the switch in Year 2.

Others that come to mind are Jedrick Wills, who has been a bit of a disappointment as the No. 10 overall pick in 2020, but he's started 53 games at left tackle for Cleveland after playing strictly on the right side in college.

Tristan Wirfs is another interesting example. He played mostly on the right side in college but did get some left-tackle experience at Iowa. Then he spent the first three years of his NFL career at right tackle before shifting to the left side last year. Despite the change, he graded out as the fifth-best tackle in the game in 2023, per Pro Football Focus.

Thanks, UTBC. The Patriots were actually pretty aggressive last year in terms of their willingness to add bodies to their pass-rush. They had a 35.2 percent blitz rate that was fourth-highest in the league, according to Pro Football Reference.

My guess is the Patriots defense this year will look very similar to the way it's looked in the last few years. Though Bill and Steve Belichick are gone, both Jerod Mayo and DeMarcus Covington had real input in how the defense was deployed on a weekly basis. Not anticipating drastic changes in that regard... but we'll see how it looks in camp.

Patrick, hard to look at the selection of Layden Robinson and not wonder what it means for Cole Strange. Unfortunately for the 2022 first-rounder, Strange finished last season injured and it seems as though he's still recuperating. Taking a guard-only prospect in the fourth round, as the Patriots did with Robinson, is a sure sign that player is viewed as having the ability to contribute and contribute early.

Still looks thin to me, NRR. They're one injury away from a real problem, in my opinion.

Perhaps Kevin Harris can take a step forward in a new offense. Perhaps undrafted rookie DeShaun Fenwick -- who looks like the kind of good-sized back (220 pounds) the Patriots have long liked on early downs -- can win a roster spot. This group isn't without a few real question marks, though.

If they win eight games with anyone as a starter, I'd say that's exceeding expectations. Of course, if Maye gives Patriots fans any reason whatsoever to be optimistic about the future, that'd qualify as a success as well.

Patience with him could be key, though. Once he's thrust into the starting lineup, it could be hard to ever pull him out without doing some damage to his psyche.

Wrote about this last week, QS. And it's a fair question. Do they have the right players in place for the kind of offensive scheme they're looking to run?

They may answer those questions emphatically if the outside-zone running game looks effective early on. But if they can't, there's no question folks will come back to how the roster was built and wonder if the front office was on the same page as the coaching staff during the team-building phase.