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Film Review: Analyzing Fourth-Round WR Javon Baker's Fit in the Patriots Offense

With their second wide receiver selection in the 2024 draft, the Patriots drafted Baker with the 110th selection last weekend.

Patriots fourth round pick out of UCF, WR Javon Baker
Patriots fourth round pick out of UCF, WR Javon Baker

The Patriots needed an aggressive approach on draft weekend to weaponize the offense around first-round quarterback Drake Maye.

After striking out on prized free-agent Calvin Ridley, New England's wide receiver room looked too similar to the Mac Jones era. Although Jones's failures have several layers, Mac's supporting cast was lacking during his time in Foxboro. With a new era upon us, things must be different for Maye.

Hopefully, the third overall pick in the 2024 draft will elevate his supporting cast with his superior physical traits. Still, the Patriots need to learn their lesson about how vital playmakers and a solid offensive line are around a young quarterback. Blame whoever you want for Jones being a bust. Regardless of how you split the blame pie, this is a fact: the Patriots weapons weren't up to par with the rest of the NFL during Mac's time as the starting quarterback. With Maye, de facto GM Eliot Wolf is trying not to be an error repeater.

With that in mind, Wolf and the Patriots top brass double-dipped at wide receiver in this year's draft, selecting Washington's Ja'Lynn Polk (No. 37) and UCF wideout Javon Baker (No. 110) to pair two deep threats with the cannon-armed Maye. The duo complements each other nicely with Polk as the movable chess piece and Baker as a traditional outside receiver. Although both ran in the low 4.5s in the 40-yard dash at the combine, they play faster than their timed speed suggests.

According to Reel Analytics, a company that tracks in-game athleticism, Polk ranked in the top 10th percentile with an in-game athleticism score of 91.3. Baker also scored well, with an 87.1 score (top-15 percentile). During the Senior Bowl, Zebra Tech clocked Baker at a top speed of 20.99 MPH, the second-fastest time behind North Carolina's Tez Walker (21.18). Walker ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, while Baker clocked a 4.54-second 40, and thus, questions about Baker's long speed emerged.

Baker's subpar 40-yard dash, which ranks in the 36th percentile among wideouts, brought into question his ability to pull away from defenders on vertical routes. However, history is friendly to teams that prioritize in-game speed over timed speed. The two Pats draftees aren't on Puka Nacua's level, who was a 99th percentile in-game athlete before running a 4.56-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. But the Pats appear to think similarly to the Rams that play speed trumps timed speed.

After highlighting Polk in our first film review, this breakdown will focus on Baker. Following his transfer from Alabama, the 6-foot-1, 202-pound receiver broke out at Central Florida as a big-play threat. Baker finished second in the FBS by averaging 21.9 yards per catch, and his 15 receptions over 20 yards ranked only behind first-round picks Rome Odunze (23) and Malik Nabers (19) last season.

Although the Pats second-rounder is a very stable prospect, if you want flash, Baker is your guy. This is a very explosive athlete with impressive fluidity to snap routes off vertical stems to create separation, ranking in the 99th percentile in receiving grade against single coverage, per PFF.

Let's dig into the film to illustrate how Baker fits in the Patriots offense alongside Maye and Polk:

As for a four-star recruit in Alabama's 2020 recruiting class, Baker got off to a slow start during a golden era of wide receiver play in Tuscaloosa.

Baker was buried on the depth chart behind DeVonta Smith, John Metchie, and Jaylen Waddle as a true freshman on Alabama's national championship-winning roster with Mac Jones at quarterback. Then, Jameson Williams transferred from Ohio State to join Metchie in 2021.

Baker only had nine catches in two seasons with the Crimson Tide. Frustrated by his lack of playing time, he transferred to Central Florida, where he broke out with 56 catches for 796 yards and five touchdowns in 2022. Baker followed that up with leading the Big-12 in receiving yards (1,139) and seven scores this past season.

Although Baker's path to the NFL wasn't the straightest one, the talent was always there. As Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh said in his Patriots Unfiltered appearance last Saturday, Alabama doesn't offer scholarships to just anyone, especially at the wide receiver position.

At Central Florida, Baker realized his potential as primarily an outside receiver. With good size and play speed, Baker ran 72.9% of his routes from a wide alignment in 2023. He did travel into the slot at a decent clip, 27.1%, but this is a perimeter wideout who wins on the vertical route tree. In 2023, Baker's average target depth was 17.1 yards (21st among 458 qualified receivers) as a hitch (16 targets), go/double move (15 targets), in-cut (9), and slant (9) specialist.

As with most receivers in his mold, Baker's foundational route is a fade. Baker has the explosiveness to test corners with a good initial burst off the line, and he plays bigger than his 6-foot-1 frame suggests, winning downfield at the catch point with a 56.3% contested catch rate (9 of 16). With good body control to adjust to back-shoulder throws, Baker can run by corners on go routes or post-up for contested wins. He's also a very savvy hand fighter.

In this play, Baker uses a slight fake to the inside in his release to get the corner to close off the inside, opening a pathway to release down the sideline. The Pats draft pick then uses subtle hand fighting to stack the corner and, with the defenders' back to the QB, finds one last burst of speed to make the over-the-shoulder catch.

With high exposure to press-man coverage, Baker routinely got cornerbacks out of phase with his releases. This time, he swipes the corners' jam off him to gain initial separation, causing the DB to play from out phase in a trail position. That opens a passing window for the quarterback to throw the back shoulder, and Baker adjusts for the catch.

By forcing corners to respect the go route and his ability to win at the catch point, Baker can go to work at the first two levels and on double moves by disguising everything as a fade.

At the first two levels, Baker eats up cushion in a hurry to get bailing corners on their heels. As you can see, Baker has very good sink-and-cut ability to decelerate on the vertical stem. That allows him to smoothly break off intermediate routes as he does above on the deep hitch. He then has some juice and contact balance to add yards after the catch (7.2 YAC average).

Baker also runs snappy outs and in-cuts at the second level, hauling in seven of his 11 targets for 110 yards on those two routes. In this example, Baker does a nice job of pushing vertically into the defender to create favorable body positioning. Then, again, you see the movement skills to snap off the out route with good awareness of the sideline to tap his feet in bounds.

Along with intermediate wins, Baker demands underneath targets on slants as well. He threatens a fade release that gets Kansas CB Cobee Bryant to open upfield. The Pats fourth-rounder then smoothly breaks on a slant to make the catch over the middle.

Later in the same game, Baker gets the matchup against Bryant again. After setting it up earlier by winning on the slant, Baker hits Bryant with a sluggo that makes the future 2025 draft prospect look silly. Bryant jumps the slant thanks to a nice sell job by Baker, and Baker creates tons of separation on the double move, then climbs the ladder to make the catch.

This is also a good example of how quarterback play can impact separation metrics. Baker is wide open here, but the throw is late, which allows Bryant back into the play. This goes down as a contested catch. However, an on-time throw would've likely been a walk-in touchdown.

With Polk as an inside-outside matchup piece, Baker has the skill set to play as a traditional "X" on the outside, with enough explosiveness and great body control to run the vertical route tree.

"Big" Slot Receiver Upside

Although there's reason to believe he'll succeed as an outside receiver at the next level, Baker could also translate as a big slot if his average long speed causes issues on the boundary.

By using his size to provide a big target over the middle and speed to run the seam, Baker caught 14 passes for 367 yards on 25 slot targets, averaging a whopping 26.2 yards per catch. We expect the Patriots to develop Baker primarily as an X, but the fact that he can travel inside to the slot gives them a fallback plan and some formation flexibility.

As his yards per catch average suggests, Baker can stretch the field running the seam effectively against slower linebackers and safeties. In this example, he aligns as the inside receiver (No. 3) on the three-receiver side. UCF utilizes a switch release where Baker switches lanes with the No. 2 spot on the release. The original No. 2 grabs the attention of the bracket coverage, leaving the slot defender flat-footed against Baker up the seam, and it's a house call.

Baker can also attack single coverage inside by manipulating leverage in his stem. Above, Baker recognizes that the defender is widening at the snap to take outside position, so he re-stems back onto the inside track. Then, you see the snappiness at the top of the route to explode out of the cut as the defender gets spun around like a top on an eye-popping route.

Lastly, Baker above-average catch radius serves as a QB friendly target against zone coverage. This time, he sits in the void between two zone defenders. When the pass is thrown over his head, Baker has the hand strength and length to make the catch outside his frame.

Although we see him as a more valuable prospect playing on the outside, Baker's speed, route running, and catch radius also offer an intriguing slot option. The more you can do, right?

Bottom Line

As we said in our Ja'Lynn Polk film review, the most appealing aspect of the Patriots double-dip at wide receiver was how thoughtful they were about how the puzzle pieces fit together.

Rather than drafting receivers whose skills overlap or don't fit the offense or quarterback, New England targeted two uber-competitive ball winners who can produce on downfield routes. First-round quarterback Drake Maye had the third-highest passing grade on deep passes in the country last season (96.8). So, with that in mind, personnel chief Eliot Wolf drafted wideouts who stretch the field and win at the catch point.

Furthermore, Baker and Polk will work nicely in tandem, with Baker (X) on the outside and Polk (Z) developing as an off-the-line receiver who moves around the formation. Although we'll need to wait and see if it translates to the NFL, the Patriots wisely made sure the pieces fit on paper.

For Baker, improving his consistency at the catch point is at the top of his to-do list. The Pats fourth-round pick makes the hard catches look easy, and the easy ones look hard. He can drain a highly contested three-pointer but then bricks the wide-open three. Baker resorts to body-catching too often and loses focus when it's a routine catch. As a result, he had 15 drops over four seasons in college, including a 10.3% drop rate last season (six drops total).

Baker also had two drops that led directly to interceptions that were mega-lowlights on his film, including dropping a wide-open touchdown where the ricochet resulted in a red-zone pick. On a positive note, he finished strong with five straight games without a drop on 31 targets.

As for his pro comparisons, the two names that come to mind are fellow UCF alumn Gabe Davis and Packers wideout Romeo Doubs. Doubs, who had 674 yards and eight touchdowns in his second season, is the top athletic match with Baker (97.9%). You also see similar suddenness in his breaks with Doubs. Davis, who just inked a free-agent deal worth $39 million in maximum value with the Jaguars, has a career yards-per-catch average of 16.7 and similar testing numbers (both ran a 4.54). Either way, the projection for Baker is a field-stretching No. 3 receiver with boom or bust ability game-to-game due to his big-play nature.

Overall, the pairing might not produce a star number-one receiver, but Baker and Polk should help elevate the talent in the receiver room as higher-end complementary playmakers.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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