BOSTON (CBS) — During the Tom Brady era, Bill Belichick has whiffed on wide receivers drafted in the early rounds. Whether it’s Chad Jackson, Taylor Price, or Aaron Dobson, the Patriots haven’t hit on a receiver drafted in the second round or higher since nabbing Deion Branch in 2002.
The Patriots’ success with wide receivers has come more often through free agency and trades or by taking unheralded players that have flown under the radar come draft time. Former college quarterback Julian Edelman is one of the most famous examples, developing into perhaps the NFL’s best slot receiver after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
In Northwestern wide receiver Austin Carr, the Patriots may have found a hidden gem with the undrafted rookie from Benicia, California.
After originally joining the team as a walk-on, Carr eventually became a starter his junior season, and earned a scholarship. The wide receiver enjoyed a successful campaign at Northwestern, culminating in a monster senior year (90 catches, 1,247 yards, 12 touchdowns) that earned him 2016 Big Ten Receiver of the Year honors.
- Two-time Academic All-Big Ten
- First Team All-Big Ten
- Biletnikoff Award Finalist
- Northwestern Team Captain
- Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year (Big Ten)
NFL Combine Results
Despite his outstanding senior season, Carr was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. At Northwestern’s pro day, Carr was clocked around 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Carr is generally viewed as a slot receiver. As his rise from walk-on to college star shows, Carr has an excellent work ethic. Carr also compliments his heart with leadership skills, boasting the kind of package of intangibles that Bill Belichick loves.
On the field, Carr displays fearlessness while nabbing catches over the middle in traffic. His toughness, hands, and football I.Q. allow him to make difficult catches, and find open areas in zone coverage.
But as an undrafted receiver, we know the perceived weaknesses on his resume. According to his NFL.com draft profile, Carr lacks the athleticism and speed to be a vertical threat in the NFL.
What to expect from Carr with the Patriots?
As an intelligent, hard-working football player, Carr is Belichick’s specialty. Even with the glaring weaknesses in his game, Carr gives off an aura of confidence that leads you to believe he may last in the NFL like he did in college.
However, with Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and others locked in, the Patriots are pretty full at the wide receiver position. The team will almost certainly welcome back all five receivers from last year’s Super Bowl-winning team (including special teams-ace Matthew Slater), and are viewing Cooks as a perennial No. 1 target after trading away a first-round pick for him back in March.
Even with his potential as a steal, it’s hard to fathom Carr making the 53-man roster without a surprise cut or trade taking place. However, the practice squad is a distinct possibility. At 31, Danny Amendola’s time with the Patriots may be nearing its end, and Carr could possibly be a replacement.
Of course, there could also be other teams interested in Carr’s services in 2017. He was graded as the best wide receiver in the nation in 2016, by Pro Football Focus.