The Patriots kept fans in suspense by waiting until the 6th round to draft an offensive skill player, but they may have come away with a pair of steals in Kayshon Boutte, whose film I dove into earlier this week, and Demario Douglas.
The leader of Liberty’s passing attack, Douglas (79) more than tripled the next closest teammate’s receptions total (25) and led the team in receiving yards his final two seasons. He’s undeniably undersized at 5’8″, 179 lbs, which in tandem with his small school status caused Douglas to slip down draft boards and to the bottom of day three. But he fits this draft class’ mold of explosive three-level threats who play bigger than their height-weight numbers.
Demario Douglas will probably have to earn snaps as a returner and gadget guy early on, but he's got some intriguing tape as a receiver
+ Compliments explosiveness with sudden COD
+ Uses pace to stay deceitful in routes
+ Knack for making defenders miss in space
+ Goes up to get… pic.twitter.com/RXzZDEvtJe
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) April 29, 2023
Zay Flowers led this pack of underdogs by a wide margin due to his inside-out flexibility and well-rounded game. I was an unabashed fan of Flowers leading up to the draft, but an argument could be made that New England got a similar player at a better value.
I started calling Demario Douglas day-three Zay Flowers back at the Shrine Bowl. So here's their RAS compare card.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 30, 2023
When asked by reporters how he’d describe his style, Douglas responded “If you would use one word, I’d say electric. I’d say I can do it all, play inside receiver, outside, and then I also add value to special teams, punt return, kick return.” Douglas will spend most of his NFL snaps in the slot if he earns a role on offense, but his confidence is backed by some impressive stats.
According to PFF, Douglas had the highest career grade among draft-eligible wide receivers at 90.8. He also proved to be one of the draft’s toughest players to tackle after the catch, ranking 2nd among draft-eligible wide receivers in missed tackles forced on receptions.
More importantly, Douglas passes the eye test as a tough, highly-competitive player who lives up to his impressive measurables and stats. His skill set could be a difference-making addition to an offense that has a lot of diverse possession receivers, but few dynamic playmakers.
Here are the myriad ways Douglas could contribute in year one, both on offense and special teams.
RETURN GAME, DESIGNED TOUCHES
It could be tough for Douglas to crack the wide receiver depth chart early on. Free agent signing JuJu Smith-Schuster is projected to be the team’s top Z/slot receiver, last year’s 2nd-round pick Tyquan Thornton is likely behind him as the team’s third receiver, and Kendrick Bourne could bounce back under O’Brien after flashing under Josh McDaniels. If Douglas wants to make a quick impact, it will likely be on special teams and designed touches.
When reporters asked Douglas who he models his game after, one of the names mentioned was his new teammate, human Swiss army knife, and All-Pro returner Marcus Jones.
Demario Douglas Designed Touches
This is an appropriate comparison, as Douglas was a Freshman All-American as a punt returner, registered 70-plus-yard return touchdowns in both 2020 and 2021, and saw his fair share of designed touches at Liberty. Douglas proved to be dangerous on screens and carries, even taking a counter “BASH” run (“back away” from the offensive line) for a 75-yard score.
Marcus Jones Screens
Jones offered a similar spark given chances to contribute offensively, with the corner taking his first NFL reception nearly 50 yards for a touchdown. All five of his receptions came on screens.
Kendrick Bourne Carries
Kendrick Bourne’s role was scaled back last season under Matt Patricia, but he’s been the offense’s primary gadget guy since being signed. His 16 rushes since 2021 are more than five times as many as the next closest Patriots receivers, most of which came on reverses and jet sweeps.
How much Douglas cuts into Jones or Bourne’s touches will ultimately be decided by their performances, but he could force New England to make some tough decisions with a strong training camp and preseason.
UNDERNEATH PASSING GAME
Watching the rookie receiver’s use in Liberty’s scheme reminded me of Danny Amendola, who held down a similar role for much of the Patriots’ second dynasty. Like Douglas, Amendola lacked the measurables teams look for at the position. but overcame his smaller stature with exceptional quickness and competitiveness.
Danny Amendola Out Route Variations
A lot of Amendola’s production with New England came on out-breakers of various depths. These created 1-on-1 matchups against certain coverages where he could make defenders miss and move the chains. Attacking the outside of the defense also kept Amendola from taking big hits over the middle.
Demario Douglas Out Routes
Douglas showed how effective he can be on these out-breakers in college, turning defenders around by attacking their leverage and using deceitful body language. He showed a knack for slipping the first would-be tackler and his’ 4.44 speed turned short throws into big gains.
Demario Douglas Out-and-Up
This explosiveness forces defenders to respect the possibility of Douglas going deep, as he can take the top off if they jump a route.
After setting a career-high with 993 receiving yards, Douglas earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Bowl where he was coached by New England’s staff. Reports praised Douglas for constantly being open during practices, sending defenders to the turf at times with his route manipulation and sudden change of direction.
Demario Douglas Shrine Bowl Reps
When Zay Flowers left after the first practice due to injury, Douglas assumed the key #3 receiver role in empty formations, a pillar of O’Brien’s scheme. Against zone defenses, this alignment can lead to mismatches with the offense’s quickest player versus a linebacker. Wes Welker was the go-to back during O’Brien’s first stint in New England, and Jahmyr Gibbs made plays from this spot last season at Alabama.
Danny Amendola HOSS Juke
The Patriots’ most popular concept from this look, and an O’Brien favorite, is HOSS Juke. The “HOSS” denotes hitches outside and seam routes in each slot, while “Juke” denotes the inside-most receiver running a shallow crosser designed to beat any coverage.
Douglas was the primary read on Juke, where he could outrun and shake bigger defenders. I couldn’t find any clips from practice, here’s an example of what he can do in these situations.
Demario Douglas Over the Middle
After settling between holes in the zone, Douglas shows great awareness making the catch and immediately juking two defenders. He then jukes and stiff-arms another pair of defenders to pick up the first down.
While Douglas’ creativity and effort are keys to his success, his tendency to cut backward while eluding defenders could lead to problems at the next level. He also lost his balance with room to run more often than you’d like. There aren’t major concerns, but they’re worth monitoring.
Additionally, I wonder how often the Patriots will expose the 179 lb receiver to linebackers and safeties. Douglas is about 10 lbs lighter than Amendola and 20 lbs lighter than Julian Edelman. That said, he has all the tools to thrive in this role.
DOWNFIELD PASSING GAME
As much as Douglas and Amendola’s schematic uses overlap, the rookie’s speed adds a vertical element that sets him apart. This may be the most exciting part of his game. NFL defenses won’t give as much cushion as Douglas saw in college, but he’ll burn defenders if they whiff on jams and run by them if left untouched in his routes.
Demario Douglas Verticals
Douglas has shown he can split brackets, track deep throws, make difficult adjustments, and go up for passes when necessary. He also does a nice job uncovering and making himself friendly to the quarterback during scrambles.
Demario Douglas Drops
One potential concern is Douglas’ ability to secure receptions on diving grabs, as I noticed a couple of plays where the ball popped out as he hit the ground.
When looking at undersized speedsters in recent Patriots history, Brandin Cooks stands out as someone with similar explosiveness and tenacity downfield.
Brandin Cooks Slot Fade
When Cooks was with the Patriots for their 2017 Super Bowl run, he would often align as the slot receiver to the weakside of empty looks. If matched up against linebackers and safeties versus zone, it gave him a chance to streak past them for chunk plays. When facing a corner in press, Brady would deliver a back-shoulder ball for a higher-percentage completion.
Danny Amendola Wheel Route Variations
New England could also take another page out of Amendola’s playbook and use wheel routes to pick off man defenders or create confusion against zone.
Douglas won’t see many snaps on the boundary due to his size, but his twitch off the line and long speed offer a bit of flexibility. At times, Liberty even created 1-on-1 opportunities by making him the “X” receiver on the backside of 3×1 looks. Here’s an example from his 4-catch, 134-yard performance against UMass last season.
Demario Douglas Aligned at “X”
The corner tries playing soft press and mirroring Douglas without a jam, so he hits the jets to get the defender in chase mode. After using his head and body to sell an in-breaking route, Douglas violently changes direction and runs through contact to uncover, going up to make the catch and getting a little extra after.
Douglas’ frame and lack of ideal strength will be an obvious concern against bigger, more physical defenders (if they can get their hands on him). There were moments in the receiver’s tape where he was smothered and didn’t have the size to make plays on downfield passes. But as I mentioned, he can compensate with explosiveness in certain matchups.
Douglas will have to fend off several veterans if he wants to make a home in the slot, but the fact he can contribute in multiple ways helps his chances of earning a roster spot. The Patriots showed their desire for explosive playmaking in their use of Marcus Jones last season, and Douglas gives them similar ability with even greater upside offensively. He could also round out an intriguing group of explosive young wideouts with wiry blazer Tyquan Thornton and high-risk, high-reward draftmate Kayshon Boutte.
Sixth-round picks rarely make a significant impact at receiver in the NFL, so skepticism over whether Douglas can be a consistent difference-maker is warranted. That said, there aren’t many better spots to find out than New England.