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2013 NFL Draft: Don't worry, Patriots fans, plenty of Welker options

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

You know, if Ozzie Newsome and Bill Belichick weren't winning Super Bowls every few years, one might feel a little bad for them. After all, the start of free agency this year has been tough on the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots, who have both lost key players to opponents.

The Ravens could be in the tougher position of the two AFC powers. Not only do they have to replace departed free agents Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, they lost the glue of their linebacking corps when Ray Lewis walked off into the sunset.

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Clearly, the Patriots will be smarting with the loss of slot receiver Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos but three particularly intriguing slot options could be staring at them with their first pick, No. 29 overall.

Southern Cal wideout Robert Woods might be the best fit. While larger than the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Welker, Woods, 6-foot, 201 pounds, is a similarly savvy route-runner with soft, reliable hands. Like Welker, he is at his best on shorter option routes and as a three-year standout in a pro-style offense, Woods won't have the learning curve that most rookies are forced to deal with, which is why a couple of CBS' mock drafts have already projected him to New England.

Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins is even bigger option at 6-foot-1, 214 pounds. At his size, Hopkins is bigger than the Patriots have traditionally valued in the slot but he, like Woods, is a terrific route-runner with a proven track record. He's quick, physical and showed the ability to make the tough reception when the lights shone brightest, such as several big grabs in Clemson's dramatic comeback over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and 18 touchdowns overall last year.

Perhaps the most intriguing option from strictly a size standpoint, of course, is West Virginia's Tavon Austin. The 5-foot-9, 174-pound dynamo isn't yet as sharp a route-runner as Welker but possesses extraordinary athleticism to develop in this role. He also offers a game-breaking element that Welker never possessed. Teams couldn't stop Welker from catching Tom Brady's passes but once he caught them, defenders rarely had to worry much about him making them miss or breaking free for long gains. Austin, who clocked in with a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the combine, has drawn comparisons from scouts to Percy Harvin, Az-Zahir Hakim and Eric Metcalf because of his elusiveness and straight-line speed.

 
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