Remember when a panic formed around the New England Patriots’ wide receivers? Pepperidge Farms remembers.
With the surprising news of Josh Gordon’s reinstatement back into the NFL, the Patriots receiving room is now terrifyingly deep. It’s such a talented group that the rest of the AFC may as well throw away their secondaries. Tom Brady is going to have some fun as a 42-year-old.
Six players, in particular, stand out from the depth chart. Only two of them have played in Foxborough before, and one for more than a season. Let’s run through each and strike fear into those loathing the six-time Super Bowl champions.
2018 stats: 74 receptions, 850 yards, 6 touchdowns
Play to the whistle.
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) December 23, 2018
The squirrel, minitron, Slottie Pippen, the Energizer Bunny, the Super Bowl MVP, Julian Edelman goes by many names and takes them to the gridiron. Brady’s favorite target in a post-Rob Gronkowski world, Edelman is prepping for another season filled with shedding defenses midfield with scrappy play, quick releases, and big-time catches.
Despite coming off of a torn ACL and missing the first four games of the season (PED suspension), Edelman posted his fifth straight 60+ catch season in 2018. Known for his prowess as a short-range route-runner and inability to go down in the open field, Edelman is a versatile slot menace, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
2018 stats (college): 73 receptions, 1,088 yards, 9 touchdowns
N’Keal Harry is the only receiver Belichick has taken in the first round, and for good reason. A former Arizona State Sundevil, Harry is the master of the contested catch. In college, he played the role of the Pac-12’s DeAndre Hopkins, making silly physical one-handed catches like it was nothing.
New Patriots WR N’Keal Harry made one of the filthiest catches you’ll ever see last season. pic.twitter.com/wkTZCIctZ4
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 26, 2019
“Give up” probably isn’t in Harry’s vocabulary. Everything he does on the field has to be done with physicality, brute force, and winning in mind. Though he’s going to have to fix his separation-creating abilities and isn’t blazing fast, the Patriots will make use out of a 6-foot-2 (closer to 6-foot-4 according to him) 228-pound “catch everything” receiver. It doesn’t hurt that he has a little bit of wiggle with the ball in his hands either.
2018 stats: 41 receptions, 737 yards, 4 touchdowns
The wildcard. Josh Gordon’s off-the-field issues are well noted, and repeating them would be redundant. All you have to know is that Flash Gordon is back.
Josh Gordon in the open field is SCARY pic.twitter.com/VAB6SJSc46
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 21, 2018
Gordon is a game-changer for the Patriots offense, and should immediately unseat Harry as the X-receiver in their offense. Though he didn’t have a 2013-esque campaign (1,646 yards in 14 games) in 2018, it’s hard to argue that he didn’t massively impact the Patriots offense. In his first season in Foxborough, he quickly became Brady’s favorite target downfield, averaging 18 yards per catch.
Flash Gordon is often dubbed as a “what could’ve been” player. At 6-foot-3 with a Zeus-like frame, speed, and physicality at the point of attack, the game isn’t the same without him. Now, the 28-year-old can shift his status as a “what could’ve been,” to a “what is.”
2018 stats: 28 receptions, 304 yards
A new trend in the NFL is the big slot receiver. The ideology is pure; if you have a big guy that can run clean routes, why not isolate against lumbering linebackers? With Maurice Harris, the Patriots are fully on-board the big slot bandwagon; because that’s what he’s best at.
— NESN (@NESN) August 14, 2019
Formerly undrafted, Harris didn’t break out until 2018, where he posted respectable numbers up until a season-ending concussion. In Washington, he proved to be a versatile threat — who can line up in the slot and out-wide — with a full route-tree and the size (6-foot-3, 205-pounds) and foot quickness to create mismatches in the inside.
2018 stats: 59 receptions, 677 yards, 5 touchdowns
Demaryius Thomas is 31 years old, coming off of a torn Achilles, and showed regression between time with two teams in 2018. So why highlight him as a focal point of the Patriots receiving corps? Perhaps it’s nostalgia, perhaps it’s hope, perhaps it’s because he’s still Demaryius Thomas.
Demaryius Thomas gets his first TD as a Texan ✊
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) November 27, 2018
Though Thomas didn’t have 900+ receiving yards for the seventh time in his career between Denver and Houston in 2018, the Patriots aren’t looking for — or needing — the prime version of himself. Thomas, when he comes off of injury, should find a role as a red zone ace, plus blocker, and field stretcher.
Even if Thomas is 75% of what he was as a Bronco, that’ll be more than enough off the bench.
2018 stats: 92 receptions, 1,047 yards, 4 touchdowns
A quarterback turned wide receiver who ran a 4.63 40-time at the NFL Combine, Jakobi Meyers going undrafted is justifiable. Until the tape starts rolling. Despite his inexperience at the position and lack of speed, the receiver put on a show at N.C. State, flashing the ability to use his size (6-foot-2, 203-pounds), quickness, and sure-hands to burn cornerbacks.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 9, 2019
Similar to Harris, Meyers is a big slot mismatch that can play out-wide. In both training camp and preseason ball, the receiver put on a show, often looking the part of the best receiver on the field. He’s a fluid route-runner, a high-point ace, and isn’t afraid to attack the middle of the field. Earlier in training camp, Bill Belichick said, via Forbes, “He’s a smart kid. He has position versatility and understands the offense.”
The Patriots receiver corps is not fair, and I didn’t even mention 2018 starter Phillip Dorsett.