Armando Salguero: Patriots Come To NFL Combine With Three Players Definitely On Their Minds

INDIANAPOLIS -- The New England Patriots are typically among the most stealthy teams when it comes to knowing the direction or plans of their drafts, but as the 2022 NFL Combine begins Tuesday, a significant portion of Bill Belichick's strategy is already clear.

It involves wide receivers.

Because the Patriots need talent there and are going to be doing their homework to get it.

The Patriots have set up combine meetings with a handful of receivers in Indianapolis, per a source familiar with plans.

The Patriots will be meeting with Chris Olave of Ohio State, Treylon Burks of Arkansas and Jameson Williams of Alabama among others, according to the source. And the club will be conducting these interviews back-to-back-to-back so as to directly compare the players one against another.

The source would not say whether the Patriots will meet with other receivers, although that is likely.

The names shared do suggest the Patriots are seriously considering using their first-round pick, No. 21 overall, on the wide receiver position because all three players are expected to be available in that vicinity but definitely not so when New England is scheduled to make its next selection at No. 54 overall.

All those players, by the way, have been bigtime collegiate playmakers, but the most interesting of the trio is Williams because he's recovering from surgery in his left knee after sustaining an ACL injury in the National Championship Game against Georgia.

Williams, who arrived in Indianapolis Monday after visiting a specialist in Dallas to check the progress of his knee, might have perhaps been the top receiver picked in the coming April draft were it not for the injury.

He and USC's Drake Landon would have been considered the favorites to lead the 2022 receiver class.

"We'll see what happens with Jameson Williams from Alabama, because in a world where he doesn't get hurt, he's a top 10 pick," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said last week during a conference call with reporters.

"But coming off of an ACL, you would think there would be a full recovery there, and that could end up being -- man, it could end up being a tremendous value for somebody."

Williams is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds or so. Before his injury, he was as productive as any receiver to come out of Alabama in recent years -- and they've had a handful of outstanding ones selected in the first round, including DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III.

Williams caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

It should be noted Alabama coach Nick Saban and Belichick have been friends for over 30 years, and Belichick often turns to Saban's teams for his top picks. Last year, the Patriots made Alabama quarterback Mac Jones their No. 1 selection.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay referred to Williams as "a game-breaker" and "probably the most talented receiver in the class" were it not for the injury.

Olave is about 6-1 and 187 pounds (everyone will be weighed and measured officially at the Combine) and is expected to show off his speed in the 40-yard dash.

Jeremiah likes Olave and Penn State's Jahan Dotson to be available when the Patriots draft.

"Both these guys are going to run in the 4.3s, so they're going to fly around in Indy, and maybe that helps elevate them up the board a little bit," Jeremiah said. "But both those guys are pristine route runners with big time speed, and I think that would give them some play-making ability."

The Patriots' interest in Dotson is not known, but the club definitely likes Burks, who is around 6-3 and 225 pounds and quite versatile.

Burks often got the ball early and quickly for the Razorbacks on slants and bubble screens. The team even asked him to work at running back and in the wildcat formation.

Burks showed great versatility and production in catching 66 passes for 1,104 yards with 11 touchdowns.

And if there are two things the Patriots love from their players, it's versatility and production.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero