The Patriots improved their roster in several areas in the 2023 NFL Draft.
New England's defense should receive an immediate boost from first-round pick Christian Gonzalez, while day-two selections Keion White and Marte Mapu have intriguing physical traits.
The special teams got better by adding two new specialists and potential coverage aces on day three. After last year's issues in the kicking game, that's not insignificant.
However, the Patriots didn't add any immediate impact players on offense via the draft, opting to trust their veterans and reworked coaching staff to move the needle. The messaging from head coach Bill Belichick and Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh was that it made sense to use all three top-100 picks on defense after focusing on offensive additions in free agency.
Many, including myself, believed the Patriots had needs at offensive tackle, wide receiver, and tight end. Despite holes now and in the future, the Patriots surprisingly didn't draft any offensive tackles or tight ends (even though it was a great tight end class).
They're rolling with Trent Brown, Conor McDermott, Riley Reiff, Calvin Anderson, and Yodny Cajuste at tackle. And the future at tight end will have to wait with Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki on expiring deals. The tackle group lacks top-end talent on paper, while tight end is barren beyond 2023.
Then, at the highly-debated wide receiver position, the Patriots major addition is JuJu Smith-Schuster, who replaced Jakobi Meyers this offseason.
Along with offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's return, who will hopefully get better quarterback play out of Mac Jones and other roster holdovers, the offensive additions came in March. Frankly, it's fair to wonder if that'll be enough to compete on the scoreboard against playoff-caliber offenses.
There are wild cards for finding immediate impact playmakers in the form of two late-round selections, though, which came on a day three mostly filled with interior offensive line depth and specialists.
Although you can't expect them to make instant contributions as the 187th and 210th picks, wide receivers Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas weren't sixth-rounders because they lacked talent.
Boutte was once viewed as the next great LSU wide receiver before a severe ankle injury and character concerns derailed his collegiate career. Douglas, on the other hand, has a pro-caliber athletic profile and runs dynamic routes. But he was viewed as a late-round prospect because of a smaller frame and the level of competition at an Independent program (Liberty).
Boutte and Douglas are fliers that the Patriots hope are diamonds in the rough. Still, there are reasons to believe that at least one dart throw will hit. For a franchise that has done this before with late-round picks, let's not completely rule it out:
Kayshon Boutte, LSU (187th Overall Pick by Patriots)
Boutte's path to this point has taken a few unfortunate turns that caused his stock to plummet.
In his first 16 games in Baton Rouge, the highly-touted receiver had 83 catches, 1,244 yards, and 14 touchdowns. He was an early-breakout star following the same path as Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and other LSU standouts at the position. Many draft pundits and scouts felt he was destined to be a first-round pick down the road.
Unfortunately, Boutte broke his right ankle trying to make an acrobatic sideline catch in 2021. He needed two surgeries after the ankle didn't initially heal properly, and the injury lingered into his junior year while LSU pivoted to head coach Brian Kelly.
Boutte returned under a new regime for the 2022 season at less than 100%. His role changed, his production wasn't the same, and Boutte was often visibly frustrated. He ended the year unavailable to play in the Citrus Bowl for an undisclosed reason.
The 20-year-old then went to the NFL Combine, where a super explosive athlete tested like a middling NFL receiver, adding another layer of doubt. The Pats rookie said the ankle was still a factor but owned his lackluster testing numbers without excuses.
The Patriots will need to get the train back on the tracks, but there were flashes of Boutte's talent last season that suggest he can regain his form.
Boutte's initial burst off the line and suddenness through his route breaks jump off the film when he's a full go. As does his carrying trait, yards after the catch, averaging 6.4 YAC per reception with 30 forced missed tackles at LSU, per PFF.
The rookie wideout can play inside or outside as more of a power receiver rather than a quick jitterbug. In some ways, his game is similar to Smith-Schuster's, with more straight-line speed but worse ball skills. I'd also liken his game to Jarvis Landry or Christian Kirk as a projected ceiling.
Despite a pedestrian 40-time at the combine, Boutte's film shows a more explosive mover who tests defensive backs off the line. The clip above is against Alabama this past season, while rumor has it that Boutte clocked closer to a 4.4-second 40-yard dash back in 2020.
Making defensive backs uncomfortable with his initial burst creates space for intermediate cuts when defenders open their hips upfield to protect over the top.
Here, Boutte is matched up against Commanders first-round pick Emmanuel Forbes. His route stem makes Forbes respect a vertical, getting him to open upfield. Once he has Forbes there, Boutte steps on Forbes's toes to set up the break and snaps off a skinny post. Then, he pulls away from Forbes, who ran a 4.35-second 40 and housed it for six.
Along with the explosiveness to run away from defenders, Boutte is also a tough runner to tackle with good contact balance after the catch, which is where his 30 forced missed tackles come into play.
Although it was inconsistent with all the various circumstances last season, Boutte flashes quick-twitch route breaks on "whip" routes from the slot. He also ran the option series as the number three receiver in LSU's version of HOSS Juke.
Boutte leans more toward a power slot receiver, but he can run routes on the outside, especially from tighter splits. He shows crafty hand usage to swat away jams and suddenly snaps off routes to create separation.
Other than re-establishing his explosive gear with improved health, the other area of improvement for Boutte on film is drops. He had 16 drops on 199 targets in college, for a drop rate of 11%, which is on the higher end. Boutte only converted 12 of his 36 contested targets into catches (33.3%).
Assuming he's fully healthy and locked in, Boutte has first-round talent with coachable warts. He could end up being the steal of the draft.
Demario Douglas, Liberty (210th Overall Pick by Patriots)
For those of you who followed my draft coverage, everyone knows Zay Flowers was my crush.
The Patriots opted for Gonzalez in the first round, with Flowers landing in Baltimore five picks later. The Boston College product was my guy because this offense lacks big-play ability and separation quickness. I wanted someone who gets wide open, creating quick wins as a quarterback's best friend to make life easier on Mac.
My trip to the Shrine Bowl has me convinced that Flowers will be a star. But it also led me to a small-school version in Douglas, and apparently, the Patriots were already aware of him. Douglas was on a list of players the Pats wanted to work with in Vegas, and they got that opportunity.
Douglas has a similar frame, athletic profile, and skill set as Flowers. He's a dynamic route-runner at all three levels, with the explosiveness and salesmanship to be a handful to cover. Douglas is also a dangerous YAC merchant, adding gadget weapon ability (screen, motion plays, etc.). Flowers has a fuller route tree and more versatility to play on the outside, which is why he was a first-rounder, but Douglas is pretty close in terms of how they move on the field.
The level of competition is used as a knock, but Douglas had 14 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns in two games against Arkansas (7, 145, TD) and Wake Forest (7, 124, 2 TD) last season. He also showed well at the Shrine Bowl against other NFL-caliber prospects.
Starting with his vertical route-running, Douglas is excellent at varying his speed throughout the route and accelerating through the break point to lose coverage downfield. Above, he sells the corner route before hitting the turbo button through the vertical break to create ample separation on a post-corner pattern for a touchdown.
Here's another example of Douglas's salesmanship and burst on vertical double moves as he runs an out-and-up for another explosive play.
The big plays for Douglas mostly come on multi-breaking routes and gadget plays. But he can also use his 4.44-speed to set up intermediate cuts. Douglas shows the route detail to stress the defender vertically, attack leverage, and blind spots, creating separation.
Lastly, Douglas was a big-play machine as the ball carrier on screens or while coming in motion. In the first play above, Liberty uses a motion popularized by the Dolphins for Tyreek Hill. As he runs across in motion, he gets a head of steam to convert the motion at the snap into a vertical burst, and he runs right by the defender.
In many ways, Douglas brings similar traits that made Flowers an intriguing fit. Liberty used Douglas as a vertical threat, an underneath safety blanket on slants and hitches, and as a gadget player. His explosiveness and separation quickness will be a welcomed addition.
New England's decision to wait until the sixth round to address wide receiver will be panned as neglecting the position. However, Boutte and Douglas aren't your average late-round fliers.
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