FOXBOROUGH — The New England Patriots have been a wide receiver-needy team for years, but they nearly had one of the top receivers in the game fall into their lap in the 2020 NFL Draft.

LSU Tigers star Justin Jefferson was one of that draft night’s biggest sliders. As the Patriots were just about to be on the clock, the Minnesota Vikings selected Jefferson with the No. 22 overall pick, one pick before New England.

Despite falling to the later stage of the first round, Jefferson’s been one of the best players of his draft class. He set the single-season record for most receiving yards by a rookie, then had 108 catches for 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

Ahead of Thursday’s matchup against the Vikings, Patriots coach Bill Belichick reflected on the pre-draft process in 2020. The Patriots met with Jefferson at the NFL Combine that year and Belichick claimed he knew Jefferson would be a good player in the league, but didn’t know he’d be this good.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Belichick said of Jefferson. “We haven’t seen him in the NFC, but from watching a little bit in the offseason to looking at him now – he was not a secret [in the pre-draft process], but it’d be hard to envision the amount of success he’s had in three years. The numbers are historic. He’s a great player.”

Belichick recognized that Jefferson being selected where he was in the first round is another example of the draft being “not obviously an exact science,” mentioning a pair of players he selected later in the draft as other examples.

“[Rob] Gronkowski would’ve been a top-10 pick, too, if you knew what his production was going to be,” Belichick said. “We’re talking about Hall of Fame-type guys that are not in the top-10. He should’ve been in the top-10. [Tom] Brady, you know. So, it’s not obviously an exact science.”

Belichick also acknowledged that while Jefferson is a great talent, he’s also got a good situation around him, too.

“He’s really – he’s a good player, he does a lot of things well,” Belichick said. “Obviously, the deep ball, tracks it, very good at getting open, separation, good with the ball in his hands, he’s a hard guy to tackle and makes a lot of plays. After the catch, makes a lot of yards after the catch.

“Obviously, he’s got a great quarterback and Kirk [Cousins] does a good job of throwing to him at the right time, giving him a chance, putting the ball in the right spot. Jefferson does a great job at catching it, tracking it, and all that. So, they’re a very, very explosive, dynamic group.”

In case you’re wondering, the Patriots ended up trading out of the No. 23 pick in 2020, sending it to the Los Angeles Charges. Los Angeles selected linebacker Kenneth Murray with the pick while New England selected safety Kyle Dugger with the pick it got from Los Angeles early in the second round.