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Ja'Lynn Polk Works His Way to Patriots

The Patriots second-rounder Ja’Lynn Polk has the professionalism and work ethic to play a major role in New England’s remade offense.

Second-round draft pick wide receiver Ja'Lynn Polk.
Second-round draft pick wide receiver Ja'Lynn Polk.

There was little question about which side of the ball the Patriots would focus on in this year's draft, it was just how the board would fall and which holes they would fill first. After taking quarterback Drake Maye third overall, the wide receiver and tackle positions beckoned.

Early on Day 2, the Patriots made the move for a needed pass catcher. New England traded down once in the second round before selecting Washington receiver Ja'Lynn Polk with the 37th overall pick. Polk was part of a vaunted Husky offense that included receiver Rome Odunze and quarterback Michael Penix, who were both selected in the first round, and offers an instant influx of what the Pats were desperate to add this offseason.

With 69 catches for 1,159 yards and nine touchdowns in his third and final season, Polk was a big part of Washington's success that carried them all the way to the national championship game.

That's an intriguing pedigree for a Patriots offense that needed to be "weaponized" this offseason. Polk has good size, solid speed and a knack for making tough catches, but it's his maturity and professional demeanor that dates back to his days in high school that could be the best indicator that New England's newest receiver has what it takes to succeed at the NFL level.

"He showed up as a [high school] freshman just full of confidence, just like he is now," said Lufkin High School head coach Todd Quick, who coached Polk for four seasons. "He was no different then. He was just younger, but a great kid, always ready to go and a high-level thinker even as a freshman."

Polk jumped right into the action in East Texas as a freshman, earning his first FBS scholarship offer to Illinois and then building on his early success with a breakout 40-catch sophomore season that earned him honorable mention All-District honors and more scholarship offers.

"He's a great team player and always had goals," said Quick. "A lot of the freshmen, a lot of the younger kids, they don't think past one day and he had a plan. He knew what he wanted to do and knew what he wanted to end up being and he's always been that way and he has really impacted the people around him. He's made them think the same type of way."

In his final two high school seasons, Polk led Lufkin to back-to-back district championships, earning third-team All-State and team MVP honors to close out his high school career. He finished second in Lufkin history in career receptions (131) and receiving yards (2,412) and third in receiving touchdowns (24).

"JP works when nobody's looking and he put the time in when everybody else is out, messing around, playing around and everything," recalled Quick. "You always talk to the kids about you are who you are when nobody's around, that's who you really are and that's who he is. He talks a good game, but he backs it up because he is a doer and he's always been that way."

Polk matriculated to Texas Tech for the 2020 COVID-shortened season, appearing in 10 games and grabbing 28 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns. But after a down season the Red Raiders weren't the right fit for Polk and in early 2021 he entered the transfer portal, eventually joining a former Lufkin High teammate tailback Caleb Berry, who was also arriving on campus in 2021.

There were plenty of opportunities at the receiver position at Washington, with future Rams star Puka Nacua departing for BYU and a pair of rising stars in Odunze and 2024 third-round pick Jalen McMillan getting ready to make their impacts felt.

With Polk entering the picture, the Huskies had a devastating trio of receivers that would torture the Pac-12 for three seasons, culminating in a 14-win season in 2023 in which the team would not lose until their final game, dropping the national championship to Michigan.

View photos of Patriots 2nd round pick, WR Ja'Lynn Polk in action at Washington.

For that final season, Polk got an early taste of the Patriots, as former offensive coaching assistant Tyler Hughes joined the Washington staff as an offensive analyst. Hughes spent three seasons (2020-22) with the Patriots after a decade making the rounds as a coach at all levels of football, from high school, to junior college, Division 2 and FBS.

"[JP] was the first person that I met on the team when I got to Washington," said Hughes. "I had been there a day or two and then I went down to the weight room and he was down there. We had a machine that would shoot out tennis balls to work on catching, hand-eye coordination, and he was down there doing that. For the most part, the weight room would have been cleared out. Most guys had already left for the day, but he was down there and I went over to talk to him. He introduced himself right to me, and we just got to talk to him for a few minutes. And I was really impressed by just his demeanor, like the way that he just conducted himself. Very mature, very professional in a lot of ways and just immediately impressed me about the type of person he was and in the way that he works."

Polk's final season in Washington was his best yet, jumping from 41 catches in 2022 to 69 in 2023, while nearly doubling his yardage as his consistent hard work that dated back to high school truly began to pay off.

"Great work ethic, great work habits and he just put forth a lot of effort in everything that he did, and obviously, very good talent as well," said Hughes. "You add up all that and that's typically going to be a successful player.

"Last year, he just had received more opportunities than he had in previous years and as a result, it just really came together for him. As a coach you always say, when you get your number called make things happen and that's exactly what he did. I felt like every time we were counting on him for something, he stepped forward and did what he needed to do to be successful."

Ultimately it was enough for the Patriots to use their second-round pick on Polk, with the hope that the hard-working receiver could become a reliable outlet for their new quarterback, Maye. With inside-outside versatility (58.7 percent outside, 41.1 percent inside) and strong hands that can be a young quarterback's favorite trait, Polk is an intriguing fit.

And there's already a degree of familiarity with Hughes back in New England, now as the Patriots receiver coach. On draft night, Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo passed the phone to Hughes to welcome his former player.

"Mostly I was just happy for him, I was excited that he had this opportunity now to fulfill a dream of playing pro football," said Hughes. "Early on when I first met him, I remember him saying how big of a goal that was for him. So, to me, when I had a chance to talk to him that night, it was just part of his night more so than mine, that's for sure. But it was still really neat to be able to talk to him and to share that conversation with him again, he did the work, he earned itand I'm happy that he's here."

There's a long way to go, but Polk's already on the right track, a track that runs all the way back to Lufkin High School in East Texas.

Even after being drafted, Polk made a brief pit stop back in Lufkin to talk to some current high school students and share his experiences that made him an NFL draft pick.

"He spoke to them for an hour and talked about some really good stuff, talked about life stuff, not football stuff. Just why am I where I'm at now? How did I get here and what you have to do to get to this point," said Quick. "He point blank told them, he says, I want you to mark it down right now, this day, 'I will win a Super Bowl and I will be an All-Pro.'

"It's not small time goals, it's big time goals and he's such a high-level thinker."

Polk has jumped right into the fire in Foxborough, leading the rookie receivers through drills during the team's rookie minicamp in early May and flashing the strong hands and professionalism that have been hallmarks of his entire career to this point. Add in a budding chemistry both on and off the field with his new quarterback and the sky is the limit for Ja'Lynn Polk.

"For all guys coming in, they just have the process of just learning how things work here, how they work in the NFL," described Hughes. "New team, new playbook and teammates. There'sjust a lot to kind of work through initially, but he's the type of person that, again, he'll get himself a process, he'll get a way of doing things day to day. He has a professional approach which is going to be really helpful for him.

"He's already done a lot of those things and it'll just take time to get rolling, but he will."

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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