Even though improving the receiving corps through the draft seemed inevitable, Patriots brass decided to wait until after to pull the trigger on the outside.
In the 24 hours after pick No. 255 concluded the NFL’s Virtual Draft, New England rolled the dice on three undrafted wideouts: Auburn slot receiver Will Hastings and two burners in Syracuse’s Sean Riley and Miami’s Jeff Thomas.
Let’s take a look at each of the three new pickups in Foxborough.
Will Hastings – Auburn
Unlike the other two, Hastings has continuity with presumptive Week 1 quarterback, Jarrett Stidham.
In 2017, the two connected 26 times for 525 yards and four touchdowns, including this deep-ball against Mississippi St.
— Graham 🅿️🦚 (@The_GBrooks) July 30, 2018
It was evident that both players have missed each other over time, as Stidham regressed mightily in 2018 when Hastings missed the entire season due to an injury. Stidham saw his completion percentage drop 5.8 percent and, while he still threw as many touchdowns and one fewer interception, his passer rating dropped 13.3 points.
On the other hand, Hastings had seven fewer receptions and an astounding 303 fewer yards in 2019––when Stidham was backing up Tom Brady in New England. His Pro Day 40-yard dash time (4.51 seconds) would’ve sandwiched him between USC’s Michael Pittman (4.52) and ASU’s Brandon Aiyuk (4.50), but otherwise, he left a lot to be desired with his results.
Could a new Brady-to-Edelman connection be brewing in New England? Based on their collegiate success together, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock.
Sean Riley – Syracuse
Riley is a speedster coming from the ACC’s Syracuse Orange, projected to go in the sixth round.
The 5-foot-7 wideout regressed a bit in 2019, but that could be largely due to a changing of quarterbacks from Eric Dungey to Tommy Devito. However, his 2018 was actually quite impressive, posting 64 receptions for 756 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games.
His major knock was that he didn’t see the ball a lot, and that showed as his production essentially halved in 2019. That being said, from a playstyle standpoint, there’s a lot of Tavon Austin to his game, including quick-hitters, screens, end-arounds, and shiftiness as a return-man.
As an undrafted free agent, the odds of him making the NFL roster is already that of a longshot. However, there are a lot of players with something to prove entering 2020, so perhaps he can feed off of that energy.
Jeff Thomas – Miami
Somewhat like Riley, Jeff Thomas is an undersized, shifty burner. He never had numbers at Miami that jumped off the page, but he did manage to post 1,002 yards from scrimmage on 74 touches the past two seasons.
The 5-foot-9 receiver shined at the NFL Scouting Combine, tying for 10th among all receivers with a 4.45 40-yard time, 14th in the broad jump (125 inches), and 16th in the vertical jump (36.5 inches). While his size and frame are concerning, it seemed as though he’d make for a solid late-round draft pick. However, he was suspended multiple times for violating team rules and ended up being removed from the program in 2018 entirely.
If he can be tamed, Bill Belichick may have a two-way force on offense and in special teams with Jeff Thomas.
The Patriots have had at least one undrafted free agent make the 53-man roster for 16 years in a row. Could one or more of these guys make it 17 years? Time will tell, but the fact of the matter is that Patriots brass corralled a few potential hidden gems that didn’t get drafted.