It is no secret that the Patriots lacked depth and talent at the receiver position throughout the 2019 NFL season. They constantly battled injuries and essentially had an entire makeover of their receiving core after the first few weeks of the season. At one point during that season, the Patriots’ top four receivers were Josh Gordon, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, and Julian Edelman. It’s safe to say the talent level took a drastic dip with the departure of Gordon, Brown, and Thomas. So how effective can the New England air attack be this year?
As currently constructed, there are three guys of the group who are pretty much locks to make the roster. Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Jakobi Meyers. Jules is the heart and soul of the Patriots’ offense, Harry was the Patriots’ first round draft pick in 2019 and although he had a disappointing rookie season, he still has a high ceiling, and Meyers was an undrafted rookie and had moments throughout the season where he truly shined. Theses three guys all play different styles and can compliment each other really well if they are able to find a rhythm with Jarrett Stidham before the start of the season.
Harry is a big, physical guy who does not run the best routes, but has the ability to go up and snag a 50/50 ball over a defender, which can be huge down by the goal line. Meyers is also a taller statured receiver, but runs very crisp routes and has tremendous body control in and out of breaks to create separation from defenders. Edelman knows the playbook better than anyone on the team and finds most of his production in the slot running option routes based on the alignment of the defender, but this may change due to the lack of chemistry that he has with Stidham. The fourth spot on the depth chart is where things get interesting.
If I were a betting man, my money would be on Mohamed Sanu to round out that top four at the position. He was battling an ankle injury for the better part of the season last year which required surgery this offseason and, as of yesterday, is out of his walking boot and has started his rehab. It is possible that he starts the season on the IR, but it all depends on his rehab and physical therapy. If Sanu is not available for the start of the season, Belichick and McDaniels have a plethora of guys who will be battling for roster spots when training camp rolls around. They brought in Marqise Lee and Damiere Byrd who have both spent some time in the league on other teams but don’t necessarily move the needle talent-wise at the receiver position. Another guy that has a legitimate shot at that fourth receiver spot is undrafted rookie Will Hastings, who played college ball at Auburn, the same school that Jarrett Stidham attended. Hastings spent some time with Jarrett Stidham at Aurburn and that past chemistry could very well carry over to New England. He is a small stature guy who stands at 5’7, but plays the same role as Julian Edelman. McDaniels likes to build his offensive inside-out, meaning getting tight ends and slot receivers heavily involved instead of relying on the guys outside the numbers to make plays all the time.
There are other receivers currently on the roster, but I don’t see them being anything more than special teamers if they do in fact make the roster. One of those guys worth mentioning though is fan-favorite, Gunner. Olszewski. If you were paying attention to the Patriots’ preseason last year, that name should ring a bell. He was a very competitive, coach’s player who played both sides of the ball during preseason, but I don’t really see him being a 53-man roster player, and certainly not one that gets reps on offense.
The biggest issue with the receiving core last year was the ability to stay on the field. Guys were constantly banged up and it made it difficult to find for Brady to find a wavelength with any of his guys because they were constantly changing. If they can stay on the field, Harry, Meyers, Edelman, and Sanu can be a capable, well-balanced air attack for the Patriots. It’s certainly not the flashiest receiving core in the league, but if you’re a New England fan, that’s certainly not uncommon.
Photo: (Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)