Which WR Prospect Fits The Patriots' Evolving Offensive Scheme The Most?
One of the best ways NFL coaches and scouts can gauge how a college prospect can perform in their respective scheme is how that player produced within their college scheme. Some players play in a pro-style system at the collegiate level, which benefits them when playing in the NFL. For others, that's not so much the case.
For the New England Patriots - who are in need of a pass-catcher - they will be taking a hard look at route distribution for this year's loaded wide receiver class. This can give them an idea of how versatile each of this year's prospects are, which will ultimately help them decide how quickly they would learn and how effective each of them would be if they were to be drafted by New England.
PFF's Austin Gayle was nice enough to share some of the top WR prospect's percent of targets by route over the past two seasons to give us an idea of when the quarterback threw the football at each of those receivers when they ran a particular route.
Gayle then followed that up with the percent of receiving yards by route over the past two seasons for some of the top receivers in this year's draft class.
Now that we have this information, let's see how these top prospects would mesh into the Patriots offensive scheme, and which one would be the best fit in New England.
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not so concrete. New England will likely shift around the offensive scheme and adjust the playbook a bit in the post-Tom Brady era. Assuming Stidham is the starting quarterback in 2020 for the Patriots, the best indicator we can get of how their offense will run moving forward is to look back at last year's preseason tape.
With the very limited tape of Stidham in a Patriots jersey, we saw a lot of the same concepts again and again. Now, this isn't to say that the playbook will not expand for him, as things were naturally a lot more simplified for him entering the league. However, the concepts we saw early on from Stidham will likely become staples of the new New England offense, as he succeeded with many of those same concepts in college.
Those concepts included a lot of hitch routes, outs, short and deep crossing patterns, and verticals/seams/go routes (whatever you refer to them as).
Here you see a very traditional staple of the Patriots offense, the HOSS passing concept. Simply put, hitches on the outside and vertical seam routes on the inside. New England ran this concept several times with Stidham throughout the preseason and in his limited regular season snaps. Running it with an effort to give him short check down throws with his hitches and the opportunity to use his arm talent to drive the ball downfield on the seams.
After reviewing what could be common route concepts in the new Patriots offense, let's look back at that receiver route chart from Austin Gayle.
Out of the list, Denzel Mims had the most targets among receivers on go routes (25.49% of his target share) and hitches (20.59% of his target share). Tee Higgins had the most targets on the out route (19.89% of his target share). Justin Jefferson had the most targets on the crossing route (10.96% of his target share).
While Mims and Higgins are extremely intriguing prospects, the best fit might be Jefferson among this group. Jefferson's a more polished route-runner, which was evident in our scouting report on him. Jefferson's route tree is also far more diverse and he is the only one among the three who can really play both inside and outside. That latter part is key as the Patriots like to move their receivers around to different spots in order to create mismatches. Receivers unable to wear multiple hats frequently have some trouble producing in New England's offense.
It is safe to deduct that out of these ten receivers, Jefferson would be the best fit in the Patriots offense. He has experience running route concepts that fit with Stidham, has crisp route-running skills and can maneuver into different spots on the field. If the Patriots do draft a receiver early, expect it to be Justin Jefferson of LSU.