It started last offseason, extended into training camp, and continued to rear its ugly head throughout the rest of the 2018 season. The Patriots wide receiver core was like a revolving door, and every time they thought they had things working, someone would either get hurt, suspended, or simply not perform.
They attempted the “sign a bunch of veteran free agents and see who sticks” strategy, yet nobody from that group stuck. Then they went the route of gambling when they traded for Josh Gordon. That did work for a while, but unfortunately, Gordon had some trouble avoiding substances again, and he was suspended for the remainder of the season following the Steelers game. They were able to make it work, mainly because Julian Edelman got his legs back under him after coming off his torn ACL from 2018.
New England did sign three veterans in free agency (Demaryius Thomas, Bruce Ellington, and Maurice Harris), they lost two that were solid contributors (Corderelle Patterson, Chris Hogan) and they re-signed Philip Dorsett, a player that Tom Brady seems to like to throw to. They also re-signed Josh Gordon yesterday, but there is no guarantee as to when or even if he will be allowed to play again. It is quite clear the Patriots need to do something at this position in the draft, and the receiver who would be perfect for their offense is A.J. Brown out of Ole Miss.
Brown, who is listed at 6’1, 230, played his high school days at Starkville High School in Mississippi. Brown was a tremendous athlete in high school, starring in football and baseball. Brown was selected in the 19th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, and for the last three years, he has attended extended spring training with the team. Brown is only the second person in history to play in the Under Armour football and baseball All-American games. Brown was recruited by 14 schools with 11 offering scholarships. Ultimately he chose Ole Miss over Alabama, Auburn, and California. He was a 4-star receiver and ranked 36th nationally in 2016.
When Brown arrived at Ole Miss, he didn’t waste any time getting himself acclimated to big-time college football. He played in every game, but he only started once. He finished the season with 29 catches, 412 yards, and two touchdowns. Those aren’t huge numbers for an established college receiver, but for a freshman, they are very strong. His best game came against Texas A&M when he led the team with 77 receiving yards and four receptions.
His sophomore year he broke out in a HUGE way. He started all 12 games, totaling 75 receptions, 1,252 yards, 11 touchdowns, and an impressive 16.7 yards per catch. He was named a Second Team All-American by Phil Steele and Third Team All-American by the Associated Press. Brown was only the third wide receiver in Ole Miss history to break 1,000 yards, and also the third most receptions in school history. He was named First Team All-SEC, which is very impressive for a sophomore. His best game came in the 2017 Egg Bowl when he made six receptions for 167 yards and one touchdown.
Brown didn’t let his big sophomore year go to his head. Last season, his junior year, he not only matched his production from ’17, he surpassed it. He finished the season with 85 receptions, 1,320 yards, and six touchdowns. Although the scoring was down, the receptions and yardage weren’t. Teams would double him more in the red zone, but that would open things up for other options. He was voted Second Team All-America by Phil Steele and the FWAA, and third team All-America by the Associated Press. He also set the Ole Miss single season record for receptions and yards, which makes his sophomore and junior year the 1st and 4th most productive seasons for a wide receiver in Ole Miss history, and he also finished the 2018 season with the most career receiving yards in Ole Miss history.
Instead of returning for his senior year, Brown decided to declare for the NFL Draft. His measurables are strong (4.49 in the 40, 36.5 vertical, 19 bench presses) and he isn’t a small guy either, so he isn’t one of the typical under-six foot Patriot’ wide receiver. Brown looks like he was made for the NFL, and he is expected to be a player that can come in and contribute to an NFL offense right from the start. He has great hands, runs precise routes, and he can play the slot and outside receiver in the NFL. One of the knocks on Brown has been his confidence in big games like LSU and Alabama, but that is something that can be overcome with experience and success against NFL talent.
Brown is projected to be a 1st or 2nd round pick, so not only is he a strong fit in the New England offense, he also should be available for the Patriots when they make their first selection, or possibly even their second. Everyone knows the Patriots need to add depth at this position, and if it happens to be Brown, New England will have a player that can compete to start from Day One.
–Christopher Simoneau is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the NFL and the New England Patriots. Follow Chris on Twitter @chris_simoneau