The Patriots’ five steps to rebuilding, No. 3: The best way to address wide receiver and tight end

Welcome to the Patriots’ road to rebuilding!

This week, we’ll unveil five steps the Pats can take to return to contention. Today: How to tackle the wide receiver and tight end positions, two groups that desperately need an influx of playmakers.

Looking at the landscape, perhaps the best way to approach wide receiver and tight end is to handle them differently.

Let’s start with wide receiver. As much as the Patriots have failed in picking wideouts in the draft, with 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry the latest flop, this is still the way to go.

Why?

The 2021 draft figures to be another great one for wide receiver talent. The Patriots completely passed in 2020, and that was considered one of the best wide receiver drafts in history. A record 13 wideouts went in the much-ballyhooed crop, which lived up to the hype.

As it turns out, 2021 is loaded once again.

By most accounts, this year’s group — headlined by Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), DeVonta Smith (Alabama), Jaylen Waddle (Alabama), and many others — has the talent and depth to compete with the 2020 group. So this year, the Patriots would be wise to grab one of the top prospects instead of passing.

Instead of paying top-dollar in the market for Allen Robinson (Bears), Chris Godwin (Bucs), Kenny Golladay (Lions), Will Fuller (Texans), Juju Smith-Schuster (Steelers), Marvin Jones (Lions) etc., which Bill Belichick is loath to do based on history, stick with the draft, and get it right for once. That’s the most cost-effective way to rebuild and resurrect the position.

They just have to do a much better job at picking the right guy, whenever they make the selection. Chase and Heisman Trophy winner Smith, the offensive MVP of the national championship game, are likely to be gone by the time they pick at No. 15 in the first round.

But there’s plenty more in the 2021 class.

Kadarius Toney (Florida), Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC), Chris Olave (Ohio State) are just a few more names that have been highly touted, and should be considered by the Patriots, along with Waddle.

Toney has been described as an “electric” slot receiver. Like Jakobi Meyers, he was a quarterback in high school. Bateman, who is 6-foot-2, has shown to be capable of playing on the boundary or as a ‘big slot’ receiver. He has great hands. Brown, at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, is an explosive playmaker. Olave also has great wheels, and a high football IQ, which would make him a fit. He caught 8 passes for 69 yards in Ohio State’s loss to Alabama in the national championship game.

Waddle, meanwhile, was out much of the year with a broken ankle, but returned to play Monday night in the title game against the Buckeyes. He was noticeably limping, and probably should not have played, but did manage to catch three passes for 34 yards before taking a seat.

Whether it’s the first or second round, the Patriots should pounce on one of the top wide receivers expected in the 2021 draft.

As for tight end, free agency is the place to go. The Patriots attacked the 2020 draft, selecting two tight ends, with both Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene taken in the third round. While neither showed much in 2020, they need more time to develop. It would help having a veteran mentor. Ryan Izzo doesn’t quite fit the role.

So adding another rookie really isn’t the way to go for a tight end group that was the worst in the NFL. Belichick has made no secret of being a fan of Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, who is headed to free agency.

Belichick should show him some love, and bring him to New England. And if not Henry, Jonnu Smith from the Texans is next on the list. Smith would be a cheaper option, and provide playmaking ability, but Henry should be the primary target.

“Henry continues to be a complete and very, very good football player for them. Henry’s really been a great player,” Belichick said prior to the Pats playing the Chargers this season. “Watched him pretty much his whole career. … He runs a variety of routes. He’s come back off the injury and has been a very, very productive player for them. … He’s done a good job for them in the running game as well as the passing game.”

Henry is a true tight end. He’s a factor as a blocker and pass-catcher, which the Patriots need. If the Chargers don’t franchise him, he is expected to command close to a top-of-the-market deal, which is in the range of  $14 to $15 million a season.

After Henry and Smith, Gerald Everett (Rams) is another possibility. The point would be for Belichick to go after a veteran who can play.

So utilize the draft for a wideout, and free agency for the tight end.