The number one concern surrounding the Patriots heading into the 2023 NFL Draft was if New England's offense had enough playmakers to turn things around offensively this season.
Although the team reunited with veteran offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, signed former Pro Bowl receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and added a productive tight end in Mike Gesicki; the questions around the league remained about how scary their offense was on paper.
With that being the overwhelming narrative, it was surprising to see the Patriots wait until the sixth round to address the wide receiver position. New England opted to pass on what was perceived as a weaker receiver class at the top this year and didn't select a tight end.
However, the Patriots eventually addressed the wide receiver position, double-dipping on two intriguing late-rounders in LSU's Kayshon Boutte and Liberty wideout Demariou Douglas.
After agreeing to coach in the annual East-West Shrine Bowl last January, Douglas was on a short-list of players that director of player personnel Matt Groh told the leaders at the draft showcase that the Patriots wanted to coach. Following a breakout redshirt sophomore season with former Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, Douglas put himself on the NFL's radar.
Being a late bloomer is nothing new for the Menendez High School in St. Augustine alum, who power-five schools overlooked because his breakout season came as a High School senior.
"I remember first talking with Matt [Groh], and he kind of listed off initially 10-15 guys they really wanted to coach. Most of those names were some of the best players in the game. Like guys who went in the first three or four rounds," Shrine Bowl director Eric Galko said. "I remember telling Matt, Demario, that's good scouting by you. That's a good player right there."
Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers led the pack as arguably the top prospect at the Shrine Bowl. Flowers's explosiveness, play speed, and big-play ability before and after the catch made the Boston College product the 22nd overall selection by the Ravens.
Flower is a more complete prospect with the ability to play on the outside and inside, but even the Ravens' first-round pick saw similarities in Douglas's game during practices in Vegas.
"I'll tell you, even Zay thought they were similar. Zay was like, and he [Flowers] didn't practice that first day at the Shrine Bowl and was watching and saying that guy [Douglas] looks like me out there. They're very similar," Galko recalled. "Zay was watching that first day, and I think he saw [Douglas] doing the kind of stuff that Zay does really well."
Along with overlapping roles and route trees, Douglas tested very similarly to Flowers with a 4.44-second 40-yard dash and elite explosiveness. Douglas is a terror to cover on vertical double moves, with the salesmanship and quick-twitch separation ability to lose corners at the top of routes. He's also a catch-and-run weapon underneath and on gadget plays.
Although NFL executives saw similarities between Douglas and Flowers, the other comparison that Galko made that'll get Patriots fans excited was to last season's breakout rookie in Foxboro.
"I think [Douglas] is the receiver version of Marcus Jones. Like the returner, gadget guy, he's going to do so much stuff for you, and he's going to have four or five big touchdowns where you're going to be like, thank god this guy is on our team."
"He's the guy that jumps off the practice field and the film speed, burst-wise. The production last year was still impressive, too. But there's so much untapped return potential, and he could definitely be a gadget guy tomorrow," Galko told Patriots.com. "To Marcus Jones's credit, he needed to play offense because they needed a guy like that, and now they have one in [Douglas]."
Besides his big play ability, the other intriguing element to Douglas's game is his underneath quickness out of the slot. The Pats have a long lineage of players like Edelman and Welker, who were a quarterback's best friend. Producing those quick wins, making life easier on Mac Jones, would be a huge addition.
"He can run those quick slants and has enough body control to separate and take contact. He did that at the Shrine Bowl and Liberty. I think that second gear of catching those quick slants, quick hitches, out of the backfield stuff, is going to allow this team to be more horizontally impressive," Galko continued. "I think Demario is going to maybe be their key guy to threaten horizontally."
The Patriots also got a behind-the-scenes look at the type of worker Douglas is when they installed a hefty amount of their offensive playbook with players at the Shrine Bowl. Although the Pats OC was only spotted on day one, that seems to be the O'Brien effect already making an impact.
"He was ready to work right away. The Patriots had a pretty big install at the Shrine Bowl of their playbook. They asked for guys to do a lot. I think that was really tough for a lot of guys. I remember Demario was one of those guys who was up late at night. I was like you guys have to go to bed, and he was like, no, I have to get ready for practice. He has that full-on attitude of someone who wants to be perfect," Galko explained.
Douglas's explosive skill set to create big plays is extremely enticing, but there is an overall rawness to his route-running because of the simplicity of his role at Liberty. Douglas was only asked to run a few routes, while his overall route refinement needs seasoning. But Galko sees a player, and a worker, who has the drive to make the leap.
"The upside with him is he wants to be one of those dangerous route runners. I'm not sure [Douglas] has got that yet because the offense [at Liberty] needed him to be a pitch, reverse, quick slant guy. I think he wants to be so much more than that. I wound't be surprised when the sixth-rounder ends up being the second and third-round value after a year of getting his feet wet in the offense. He really wants to be a good route runner," the Shrine Bowl director said.
Between Douglas and fellow sixth-round selection Kayshon Boutte, the Patriots have two day-three rookie wide receivers with enough upside to make the spring and summer interesting.
With four likely locks in free-agent addition JuJu Smith-Schuster, second-year wideout Tyquan Thornton, and veterans Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker, there's a spot for one more wide receiver as New England typically carries five wideouts on the 53-man roster.
For an offense that's looking for the big-play ability to put some fear into opposing defenses, Douglas has the potential to be a diamond in the rough for New England.
Patriots Draft Pick Profile
Strengths: Quick-twitch receiver with noticeable burst and long speed in the speed slot mold, has plenty of juice off the line to scare defensive backs on vertical stems, consistently out-ran DBs at his level of competition, good understanding of threatening leverage and selling fakes at the top of routes to create separation, excellent double move artist with proper salesmanship and pace, forced 20 missed tackles as a ball carrier on screens/sweeps/quick-hitters, return value.
Weaknesses: Tends to drift and lacks focus in route details at times, doesn't create underneath separation at first level like higher-end prospects at his position, small frame lends itself to durability/play strength/alignment concerns, big jump in level of competition from Liberty.
Personal: After helping lead Mandarin High School to a state championship with a title game record four receiving touchdowns, Douglas was named to the All-USA team as a high school senior. However, he was a late bloomer who mostly received offers from FCS-level schools. After redshirting as a freshman, Douglas eventually went on to lead Liberty in receiving in back-to-back seasons before heading to the NFL.
Comparable NFL player: Mecole Hardman – Although he's not as fast as Hardman, Douglas's skill set overlaps. They're both slippery, explosive gadget weapons that can use their upfield burst to make life challenging for defenders on vertical routes. The hope is that, where Hardman has him beat in terms of straight-line speed, Douglas will be a more crafty first and second-level route runner to develop into a higher-volume slot receiver.
|PLAYER NUMBERS||COMBINE PERCENTILE|
|Height: 5-7 7/8||1st|
|40-Yard Dash: 4.44s||76th|
|Vertical Jump: 39.5"||89th|
|Broad Jump: 11' 2"||97th|
|Short Shuttle: 4.29s||34th|
What They're Saying…
Dane Brugler/The Athletic: Douglas' role at the next level will be limited by his lack of size, length and power, but his explosive urgency as a receiver and returner increases his chances of finding an NFL home.
View photos of Patriots sixth round pick, wide receiver DeMario Douglas in action at Liberty.
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