Who Will Lead the Patriots in Receptions in 2021?

Josh McDaniels’ offense has undergone quite the makeover. The disappointment from failing to land Julio Jones despite being the favorites to land the eventual Hall of Fame receiver has overshadowed New England’s spectacular offseason. On top of bringing back Trent Brown and drafting a (potential) new starting quarterback, the Patriots have reshaped their entire array of weapons. If New England had traded for Jones, there would be less debate about which player would take the reins as the top target. With two star tight ends, a couple of average additions at receiver, and a few more players returning to the passing attack, who should be expected to be the main target in the passing attack?

Career-highs in receptions for notable Patriots pass catchers:

James White: 87 -2018
Nelson Agholor: 64 – 2018
Hunter Henry: 60 – 2020
Jakobi Meyers: 59 – 2020
Kendrick Bourne: 48 – 2020
Jonnu Smith: 41 – 2020
N’Keal Harry: 33- 2020

New England’s wide receiving core is left in a somewhat questionable situation. While Bill Belichick did go into free agency and spend significant money on two notable additions to the group in Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, neither can be expected to carry the load as a #1 wide receiver.

Agholor’s career-high of 64 receptions in 2018 and was only good for 3rd on the Eagles behind Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffrey. Even last season with the Raiders in a perceived career season, Agholor finished with fewer receptions than Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. Bourne finished 2nd on the 49ers last season with his career-high of 49 receptions, but only finished one reception ahead of George Kittle despite playing 7 more games last season. For all intents and purposes, neither of those two have ever been anything more than 3rd options in their team’s respective passing games.

Perhaps the passing attacks that Agholor and Bourne previously resided in gives us some insight into how the Patriots will shape their offense. After all, the Patriots brought in the two best tight ends in free agency. Any issues brought on by a meek wide receiver group should be resolved by the best tight end tandem in the league in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. One can only imagine exactly what Bill Belichick is cooking up to utilize both on a regular basis. It isn’t as if the Patriots brought the two elite pass catchers in to spell each other from down to down. It’s likely Smith could see some time at various positions besides tight end. Mainly wide receiver and perhaps some running back. Unfortunately, Smith wasn’t present at OTAs after the birth of his child and was sidelined early during mandatory minicamp with an apparent hamstring injury, so we haven’t gotten a sneak peek at exactly how Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels plan to use him.

“He’s just a really good tight end.” Belichick said of Smith ahead of the Patriots playoff matchup with the Titans in 2020, “Blocks well. Runs well. Good receiver. They’ve played him at tailback. Looked pretty good back there. Very athletic player.”

James White would be an intriguing pick to lead the group in receptions considering the fact that he’s one of the few returning players and he has the most receptions in a single season of the entire group, but his numbers from last year would suggest otherwise. Even while the Patriots were struggling to find answers in the passing game, White only finished with 49 receptions in 14 games.

After evaluating each option, the top choice is likely Hunter Henry. Considering his history and what New England paid to bring him in, it’s logical to assume that their team will be built around the tight end position. Henry won’t have a star receiver like Keenan Allen to overshadow him anymore. Henry hasn’t played a single game without Allen alongside him since his rookie season in 2016. Now that he finds himself in an offense where he can be classified as the biggest receiving threat, he’ll have a chance to show the league just how good he can be. The only problem is Henry’s health. Henry has missed 24 of the Chargers last 50 games. Over the last two seasons, his health has improved, but he’s battled numerous nagging injuries throughout his career. Assuming he can stay healthy, Henry should be a force in the Patriots offense.

Photo: (Adrian Kraus – AP Photo / Gary Landers – AP Photo)

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