The New England Patriots could land their next slot receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft
The New England Patriots have needs on both sides of the ball in the 2023 NFL Draft. Arguably their most pressing is at wide receiver. If that’s the direction Bill Belichick goes with New England’s first round pick, then Patriots fans may want to pay attention to their newest favorite slot receiver. Enter: Zay Flowers.
As the East-West Shrine Bowl approaches, members of the Patriots’ staff are getting a firsthand look at the talented Boston College wideout. The coaching contingent is led by the former Patriots’ slot receiver and current wide receivers coach, Troy Brown, who is serving as the head coach of the West. Bill Belichick and recently rehired offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien are also in attendance, and the three have surely been impressed with what they’ve seen.
"“He’s got some quickness. He’s got some speed. He’s able to do some things that some other people can’t do being a smaller player, a slot receiver type guy,” Brown said after West practice on Sunday."
Flowers generated buzz this season as a late first round prospect, one with both vertical speed and short-area quickness. In 12 games this season, the Senior grabbed 78 receptions for 1,077 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns, finishing as a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award.
As one of the top-rated prospects invited and advised only to interview, Flowers surprised some by suiting up for fully padded practice. He did not disappoint, flashing his ability to create separation in both 1×1 and team drills. His stock is undoubtedly rising.
Troy Brown has to be particularly impressed. First in the long line of diminutive slot receivers in New England, Brown set the blueprint for Wes Welker and Julian Edelman behind him. For the better part of two decades, the Patriots always had a reliable chain-mover in the slot. As it stands today, Jakobi Meyers serves in that role and has been the Patriots top receiver for the last three years.
Meyers is taller than his predecessors and plays a slightly different game, but has consistently created separation at the top of his routes and is among the league’s best at understanding and beating zone coverage. Meyers isn’t flashy, but his lunch pail attitude has endeared him to Patriots teammates and fans alike since signing as an undrafted free agent out of NC State in 2019.
That said, Meyers is a free agent this offseason and is considered by some to be the top receiver available. Per Spotrac, his expected market value is around $12.5m average annual salary. Long hesitant to invest big money at the receiver position, it’s unclear if the Patriots will prioritize a new deal for Meyers. Should they elect not to, Flowers could be a very real option for New England with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft.
After all, the Patriots have a thing for Shrine Bowl invitees. New England selected four players who showcased their skills in last year’s event. One of those was fellow wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, who flashed in spurts as a rookie for New England in 2022. With Nelson Agholor likely on his way out, Thornton in his second season should be a beneficiary of that departure. Thornton is at his best as a boundary receiver, where he played almost exclusively at Baylor, and should fit in nicely as the field-stretcher of this offense.
If the Patriots don’t re-sign Meyers, they could do a lot worse than DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton on the outside, and Zay Flowers in the slot. For Mac Jones, an offense led by Bill O’Brien and featuring the speed of Thornton and Flowers would likely feel similar to the offense he succeeded in at Alabama with DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
With Bill Belichick, it’s always hard to predict what may happen on draft night. The Patriots could very well spend this pick on an offensive tackle or cornerback, or trade out of this spot altogether. Bill could trade this pick four times over and no Patriots fan would be surprised. But if the Patriots stay put, don’t be surprised if they call Zay’s name at the #14 spot in the upcoming NFL Draft