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Wide outs receiving attention from the Patriots

Yesterday the running backs were on display but today the attention turned to the wide receivers and there are a number of prospects the Patriots are talking with at the Combine.

It comes down to simple math really. There is a chance that on March 3rd, Patriots wide receivers David Givens, Troy Brown, Andre' Davis and Tim Dwight could all become unrestricted free agents. Throw in the shaky future of Bethel Johnson and the team is left with only one receiver - Deion Branch - who is guaranteed to return with the Patriots next season. This is a major reason why the Patriots have spoken to at least six receivers so far at the Combine.

Even if the Patriots re-sign one or two of their free agents, receiver is a position they are looking to upgrade this offseason. Two of the top prospects at receiver - Ohio State's Santonio Holmes and Florida's Chad Jackson - both said they hadn't talked with the Patriots as of Friday afternoon. That's not a big surprise because New England isn't expected to draft a receiver in the first round but the team has already interviewed a number of middle round prospects.

The most interesting comments of the day came from LSU's Skyler Green. At 5'9 and 192 pounds, Green projects as a slot receiver in the NFL but his big-play ability as a return man has drawn comparisons to the Chiefs Dante' Hall. Green actually compared himself to Hall saying the two have a unique ability to see things on the field that other players can't while they are running with the football.

Green may not come in and set the world on fire as a receiver but his versatility as a kick returner has New England giving him a long look.

"I have already talked to the offensive coordinator, special teams coach and receivers coach with the Patriots," Green said. "I think I had a good interview. They asked a lot of questions to see what kind of person I am and I think I did pretty well."

The former high school quarterback already has ties to the Patriots organization. His cousin, Jarvis, is a defensive end for the team.

"I've talked to Jarvis through this whole process and he's told me a lot of things that have helped me," Green said. "I would love to be with the Patriots. They've had a lot of success but also I would really enjoy playing with my cousin."

Green emphasized that the Patriots are really looking to bolster their return game and he believes New England is a likely place for him to land on draft day.

"I've heard from a lot of people that the two teams most likely to pick me are the Patriots and Dolphins," Green said. "If that's true, I wouldn't mind playing for either team. They're both great organizations with great coaching staffs."

Another receiver who has ties to the Patriots and the team is showing interest in is Michigan's Jason Avant (6'1, 212 pounds).

Avant became friends with safety Rodney Harrison when the two started working out with the same trainer. The former Wolverine credits Harrison for pushing him to be as good as he can be.

"He's really helped me through this process," Avant said. "Just seeing how hard he works and the effort it takes to make it at the pro level has been a big help to me."

In true Harrison fashion, he's found a way to challenge Avant even when the two aren't training together.

"He'll call me in the morning or in the middle of the night and say, 'I just did 200 push-ups and sit-ups. What are you doing?' Then he hangs up the phone. That's what it's like working out with him. He shows you what it takes to be successful."

As a senior, Avant caught 82 balls for 1,007 yards. There is some question about his speed but he's shown he can be a good possession receiver and that could make Avant a nice compliment alongside the speedy Branch. And with Harrison around, you know the youngster won't be slacking off.

Arizona State's Derek Hagan (6'2, 208 pounds), who had 77 receptions for 1,210 yards as a senior, is another receiver the Patriots have talked to. Hagan had a tough Senior Bowl week, dropping a lot of passes during practice, but he doesn't think that should overshadow a productive career.

"Everyone knows I can catch the ball from my four years at Arizona State," Hagan said. "I don't think that will change because of one bad week of practice."

Hagan embraced the idea of playing with a quarterback like Tom Brady.

"It would be great," Hagan said. "Tom Brady is a great quarterback and he's done a lot of good things, so I would love to catch passes from him."

New Mexico's Hank Baskett (6'2, 224 pounds) may not be a household name but he has an impressive resume. Playing for a team not known for passing the ball, Baskett caught 67 passes for 1,071 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

Baskett isn't only impressive on the football field; he was very impressive in his interview. The former Lobo had the misfortune of talking at the same time as a guy named Vince Young, so I was actually able to sit down with him for a one-on-one interview. He came off as an intelligent young man who was very confident in his abilities but not cocky.

"I guarantee I'm hungrier than anyone here," Baskett said. "I'm starving. I want to show the NFL people what I'm all about."

Baskett played quarterback up until his final four games in high school before switching to receiver. He wasn't heavily recruited by many Division I programs but New Mexico gave him a scholarship and he repaid them by becoming one of the most prolific pass catchers in school history.

His size and leaping ability makes Baskett a big threat in the red zone. He was the 2004 Mountain West Conference outdoor high jump champion, so he has the ability to go up and get the ball over smaller defenders.

Still, even with all his receptions, Baskett says his toughness is what sets him apart from other receivers in this draft.

"I'm the best blocking receiver in this draft by far," Baskett said. "I love to block. I like to get physical with defensive backs and put them on the ground."

Baskett likened his game to the Bears Mushin Muhammad because they are both physical players but he doesn't really want to be compared to anyone. He would rather make a name for himself instead.

"I respect a lot of receivers in the NFL but I don't want to pattern my game after anyone," he said. "I want to be the best and you can't be the best trying to be somebody else."

Baskett talked to the Patriots at The Senior Bowl and was looking forward to speaking with them again this week at the Combine.

"I'm excited about the possibility of playing in New England," Baskett said. "They have a great team and a great tradition. I really respect Coach Belichick and I would love to play for him."

Miami of Ohio's Martin Nance (6'4, 213 pounds) talked to the Patriots coaching staff at the Senior Bowl as well and he too would love to have an opportunity to catch passes from Brady.

"As a receiver, you want a quarterback who can place the ball in the right place," Nance said. "Brady is a guy you can feel confident in to do that so it would be great to play with him."

Like Baskett, Nance may not be well known among casual football fans but with 81 receptions for 1,107 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, he's an intriguing prospect the Patriots will no doubt take a long look at.

Oregon State's Mike Hass and Monmouth's Miles Austin also spoke with representatives from the Patriots at the Combine.

The Patriots probably won't select a receiver with their first round selection but much like running back, it appears the receiver position will be addressed at some point in the draft.

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