It’s common consensus the New England Patriots need help at wide receiver. What’s not taken for granted is how the help could come from a late-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
Sixth-rounder Demario Douglas is tipped by Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports for a productive role as a rookie. Trapasso believes “the Liberty receiver is that type of squatty but sudden slot weapon with enough downfield juice to keep cornerbacks honest. He has the feet to run dynamic, intricate routes underneath and boasts reliable hands. Douglas only dropped eight passes in his final three seasons with the Flames.”
Those attributes can make Douglas an early asset for quarterback Mac Jones, who is surely entering a make-or-break season for his career as a pro starter. Jones will improve with a little more help from his supporting cast, assistance Trapasso expects Douglas to provide because “the Patriots have 41.3% of their 2022 targets available, meaning pass catchers who received more than 40% of the team’s total targets a season ago are no longer on the team. There’s plenty of opportunity for Douglas — and fellow sixth-round wideout Kayshon Boutte. ”
Those are lofty expectations for a player taken 210th overall in the league’s annual selection meeting this year. Yet, if Douglas does make the grade, Pats’ head coach Bill Belichick will look like a genius for ignoring the teams biggest need until the draft’s penultimate round.
Bill Belichick Betting on Late-Round History
Belichick gambled by waiting until the sixth round before adding a wideout, but it may be a calculated risk. At least based on the Patriots’ history of finding quality pass-catchers from the lower regions of the draft.
That’s how it went when Belichick’s mentor Bill Parcells drafted Troy Brown in the eighth round back in 1993. Brown went on to win three Super Bowls on Belichick’s watch as a prolific slot receiver and dynamic return specialist.
Julian Edelman matched Brown’s haul of Lombardi Trophies by becoming a postseason playmaker after being drafted in the seventh round in 2009.
Julian Edelman just keeps adding to that postseason resume.
Is he the most clutch playoff receiver of all time? pic.twitter.com/XYcUvhVnog
— NFL Legacy (@NFLLegacy) February 4, 2019
Edelman and Brown both fit a popular historical physical profile for Patriots’ receivers. Small, quick, nifty and able to win inside consistently. Those are the same things veteran acquisitions Wes Welker and Danny Amendola also did for fun.
Douglas fits the same bill after the 5-foot-8, 165-pounder finished his career with Liberty having made 172 receptions for 2,193 yards and 16 touchdowns, per Sports Reference.
Many of those catches came from the slot, and Douglas demonstrated his skill working out of the position during the East-West Shrine Bowl, like for this grab highlighted by Derrick of FanNation’s All Steelers.
What stood out from this play was Douglas’ ability to stretch the field. Often times slot receivers get tagged with the label of being possession-style pass-catchers, wideouts who can move the chains only in small increments, but there’s more to Douglas’ game.
He can be moved around the formation and still take the top off defenses, like for this catch Taylor Kyles of Patriots on CLNS compared to something Miami Dolphins’ star Tyreek Hill might produce.
Douglas is the type of receiver the Patriots used to make the feature of their offenses, before bigger targets became in vogue. If the latter continues to be the trend, Boutte could beat Douglas to draft steal status.
Fellow 6th-Rounder Also Touted for Big Things
Boutte has the potential to become “Mac Jones’ new best buddy,” according to USA Today’s Doug Farrar. He thinks the 187th pick has the traits, including “speed, separation, YAC ability” to gain Jones’ confidence as a go-to receiver.
Just like for Douglas, the lofty expectations for Boutte reflect how much the Patriots need a marquee weapon to emerge at the wide receiver position. It would help Jones improve the mediocre 65.2 completion percentage and 84.8 passer rating he mustered in 2022, per Pro Football Reference.
Douglas and Boutte can help, but not as much as improvement from a core of veteran receivers who are better than advertised. JuJu Smith-Schuster is coming off a Super Bowl win with the Kansas City Chiefs and has proved himself a consistent mover of the chains when healthy, while DeVante Parker can still make the tough catches.
Belichick also needs to see strides from multi-faceted Kendrick Bourne, who remains a candidate to be cut. Perhaps Douglas could slide into the role Bourne should have made his own, but whatever form the depth chart takes, the Patriots will only become an explosive offense if their late-round receivers play above their draft status.