After 4th and 5th rounds that included a trio of offensive linemen and a trade-up for a kicker, fans wondered if the Patriots would leave day three of the draft without an offensive weapon in a class full of dynamic playmakers. But Matt Groh and company answered their prayers at the top of the 6th round by selecting polarizing but undeniably talented receiver Kayshon Boutte out of LSU.
First and foremost, the concerns and question marks surrounding Boutte must be addressed. According to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, Boutte missed most of his sophomore season with a broken right ankle, which required a second surgery in the offseason. This affected his disappointing combine performance, with Boutte acknowledging the injury was a setback, but not blaming it for his poor showing.
Kayshon Boutte was drafted with pick 187 of round 6 in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 4.99 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 1536 out of 3062 WR from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/uUZDwowgdV pic.twitter.com/fSBcw1IcDv
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2023
When asked about the ankle in his introductory press conference, Boutte responded he is “feeling good now.”
There were also questions about focus and maturity at LSU, with head coach Brian Kelly at one point calling out the receiver publicly. Boutte opted to declare for the draft rather than return for a final season, leaving the program on a less-than-positive note. He acknowledged this rocky history when questioned by reporters, saying “my college career was good, but it could have been better.” But Boutte also went out of his way to assure Patriots Nation that he is “a hard worker” who plans to “give 100%,” going on to say, “I feel like I have been doubted a lot, I feel like it’s time for me to prove that I’m not that same person.”
When asked about the high-risk, high-reward prospect, director of player personnel Matt Groh said Boutte has “all the potential in the world” and that “we are going to do everything we can to help him succeed.” There aren’t many teams with the culture, veteran leadership, and available resources to take on such a project, but the Patriots are on that shortlist.
Watching Boutte’s 2021 tape, it’s impossible not to be intrigued by what the Freshman All-American could bring if he regains form.
Biggest reason I wanted Zay Flowers was how well he fit as a juiced up Edelman where inside-out versatility and separation + YAC ability are maximized by scheme
Think a committed Kayshon Boutte could fill that role, swapping Flowers' speed + twitch for more size + savvier routes pic.twitter.com/3JWnrEsRu5
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) April 30, 2023
A five-star recruit and the No. 2 wide receiver in the 2020 recruiting class, the tape shows a smooth mover with great burst, change of direction, and body control. Boutte’s at his best with the ball in his hands, showing a dynamic combination of vision, balance, burst, and breakaway speed.
Kayshon Boutte taking a slant to the house vs 1st-round pick Emmanuel Forbes pic.twitter.com/5TDhZCbXs9
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) April 29, 2023
If Boutte comes close to his pre-ankle injury ceiling, he could become a featured receiver New England relies on to keep drives alive and make big plays in big moments, a la Julian Edelman or Jakobi Meyers. The former Tiger’s athleticism, route-running, and toughness also make him a candidate to line up at any receiver spot, depending on the situation and game plan.
Here are all the potential roles Boutte could occupy in the Patriots’ offense and what he brings to each.
Boutte’s primary role would likely be a “Z” receiver aligned outside and off the line of scrimmage, where Bill O’Brien can use motion and shifts to create advantages against man coverage.
Julian Edelman Underneath Routes Off Motion
Josh McDaniels, who runs a similar offense to O’Brien, would often give Edelman a head start on shallow crossers to help the receiver run away from coverage. These were often helped by picks from Rob Gronkowski. When paired with out-breaking routes using similar motion, this simple strategy can be a headache to defend, especially against elusive receivers.
With his big play ability after the catch, Boutte could be a homerun threat anytime the Patriots dial up these kinds of concepts. Here’s an example from his three-touchdown performance against UCLA in 2021.
Kayshon Boutte Long Touchdown
Targets near the boundary aren’t expected to get much YAC due to the lack of space, but that didn’t stop Boutte on this rep. After settling between zone defenders, he attacks the ball and immediately turns upfield. He then puts a move on the upfield defender to give himself a runway, uses his go-to stiff arm to ward off a pair of diving tackle attempts, regains his balance while staying in bounds, and takes it to the house.
One potential concern in these situations would be blocking, as the “Z” is traditionally lines up to the tight-end side where most runs go.
Kayshon Boutte Blocking
While Boutte is an aggressive blocker who likes to mix things up with defenders, he struggles to latch on and sustain blocks. He was also tossed to the ground at times. That said, the effort and edge are there, so ideally New England’s coaching staff can maximize it.
Boutte could bump into the slot for extra room to maneuver in two-receiver groupings or formations with multiple slot receivers. These alignments often lead to mismatches against slower linebackers, smaller slot corners, and less athletic safeties.
Defenses know to expect intermediate in-breakers when a team’s best receiver is inside, so they often counter with man coverage aimed at eliminating or jumping these routes. The Patriots use this to their advantage and counter that counter with out routes off similar “burst” releases, which start with a hard inside angle before going vertical. These were bread-and-butter concepts for Edelman and Meyers.
Julian Edelman “Burst” In, Out
Boutte has shown the route-running prowess to win on these types of routes. Here’s another example from his monster game against the Bruins.
Kayshon Boutte “Burst” Out
Facing press coverage Boutte squares up the corner, bursts off the line, uses his head to sell an inside route, then violently redirects and swipes when the defender tries disrupting his route.
With the corner stacked, he gets his eyes to the quarterback, jumps up and snatches the ball to brace for potential contact from the safety, and gets both feet down on the catch.
While Boutte’s ability to separate and make plays in space is valuable in the slot, he’ll have to prove he can capitalize on such opportunities consistently.
Kayshon Boutte Tracking (2021)
There were a pair of grabs against Kentucky where he had acres of grass to work with after the catch, but appeared to misread the ball and wound up on the ground. Boutte also struggled at times adjusting to awkward throws behind or below him.
In critical situations when the Patriots need a manageable conversion, or anytime O’Brien wants a quick chunk of yards, Boutte could line up as the “X” receiver to the backside of 3×1 formations to manufacture 1-on-1 matchups.
Though Edelman was rarely used outside the numbers and on the line of scrimmage, he did have some memorable catches from this alignment. The one that every Patriots fan will remember was his game-winning touchdown against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
Julian Edelman Super Bowl-winning Touchdown from “X” Alignment
Boutte is a great salesman on slants, uses pace and pad level to keep defenders guessing on curls, and is excellent at working the boundary.
Kayshon Boutte From “X” Alignment
Here’s one of the most impressive plays of Boutte’s LSU tenure and, unfortunately, the rep that led to his college career-altering ankle injury.
Kayshon Boutte Explosive Scramble Reception From “X” Alignment
Facing off man to the backside of Kentucky’s hybrid Cover 4 scheme, Boutte gets the corner thinking vertical route by raising his pads at the top of the route before throttling down and drifting back to his quarterback. After identifying scramble, he takes his route upfield while staying in bounds, then makes a ridiculous adjustment along the sideline to secure the catch while keeping both feet in bounds and falling on his back to prevent a bobble.
Boutte showed he can succeed on the boundary running short-intermediate routes and on scramble drills, but his college career didn’t feature consistent deep ball production.
Kayshon Boutte Deep
This is largely due to his lack of true deep speed and modest frame, which shows against better press corners and downfield at the catch-point. Boutte’s route technique and execution could also be more precise and consistent, specifically route pacing and hand fighting.
Boutte has 1st round talent, as proven by most “way too early mock drafts” heading into the 2022 season. But the concerns that led to his plummet to day three can’t be ignored, so projecting the rookie to make an early impact is a gamble.
But if he does buy in and commits to being a great player, the Patriots got themselves an absolute steal with the traits to become an offensive focal point and matchup weapon for years to come. Mac Jones hasn’t had a consistent separator who could turn short plays into explosive gains in his professional career, but his ball placement could maximize Boutte’s potential and form one of the league’s more potent young quarterback-receiver duos.