Patriots must ignore this overrated statistic during 2024 Draft

Looking for a wide receiver, forget this stat as a key determinant
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As the NFL draft quickly approaches, statistics are being used to a fair degree to try to decipher analytically what makes a good college football player worthy of being selected. Combine numbers range from 40-yard dash times to hand size and beyond.

While some are of great utility (e.g., arm length for an offensive tackle, raw straight-line speed for a wide receiver or cornerback, and reps on the weights for interior offensive linemen), others may not be valuable, if of any value at all.

The New England Patriots are faced with their most important draft since 1993 when they had the first overall pick in the draft, or maybe 2000, and fortuitously selected (thanks to Asst. Coach Dick Rehbein) a "slightly underrated" quarterback from Michigan named Tom Brady in the sixth round.

This season, the Patriots have the third overall pick in the draft and as in 1993 (but not so much really in 2000), they need a quarterback. They also need just about every other position on their offense absent guard, maybe. But one of the key positions they need to upgrade is wide receiver. Let's talk about wide receiver stats.

Patriots need wide receivers who are fast and elusive

Speed is a true asset in a wide receiver. You need that to beat defenders to the ball and motor after the catch for additional gains. Since the days of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, that attribute has been sorely lacking in Patriots wideouts. They need to fix it.

The five fastest wide receivers at the NFL Combine were Xavier Worthy of Texas, Brian Thomas, Jr. of LSU, Adonai Mitchell of Texas, Devontez Walker of North Carolina, and Jacob Cowing of Arizona. If you want pure speed, they have the most. But is speed the ultimate determinant for a successful NFL receiver? No.

Staying Patriots-centric, an example from the 2022 draft is wide receiver, Tyquan Thornton. Thornton ran a blistering combine forty of 4.28 seconds. The Pats needed speed, so that made great sense, right?

Wrong. Pure speed is not enough. Thornton has struggled to stay on the field and do much of anything when he's played.

The fact is you have to get open. In the 2020s NFL, you'd also better be strong enough to deal with big, tough cornerbacks. Thornton isn't. In two seasons, the former second-round reach has only caught 35 passes for 338 yards and two TDs in 22 games.

In short, he's a flop. But there is one stat that, above all, should be ignored when considering wide receivers. That's "contested catches." And the Patriots have an archetypal example of that in a former first-round pick.

Pats' 2019 No. One draft pick N'Keal Harry was a master of contested catches and little else

The Patriots, under Bill Belichick, couldn't draft wide receivers. Absent Julian Edelman, a late-round flier, and Malcolm Mitchell, whose career was lost early due to injury, they had little success there under Bill. And they seldom even drafted wide receivers because of it.

One huge exception was the 2019 draft when they selected Arizona wide receiver N'Keal Harry with their first-round pick. provided a veiled warning of sorts in their scouting report that went unheeded by Belichick. Here's part of what they noted,

"Back-shoulder boss who thrives with contested catch opportunities outside the numbers but lacks explosive traits. Harry's ability to body-up opponents and win with ball skills is undeniable, but his inability to find a threatening top gear or shake loose from tight man coverage must be accounted for within his new employer's scheme."

His strength was evidently "contested catches." And that's the issue. Simply put, when your greatest strength in college is contested catches, your prospectus for success at the NFL level should be considered suspect, at best.

What it says is that the player couldn't get open enough to avoid those contested catches, and if he can't in college, he most won't be able to in the NFL, either. That's why, in the wide receiver arena, contested catch statistics should be taken not with a grain of salt but with a barrel full of it.

Harry caught 57 passes for 598 yards and four touchdowns in his three underwhelming years in New England. Since he left, he's caught seven passes in two years with two additional teams. Harry was a classic draft flop.

The moral of the story is this: if you're the New England Patriots about to draft a wide receiver this month, make sure his top attribute is separation. If you rely on a player who just makes contested catches, be assured he won't make many catches at all in the NFL.

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