The 2017 New England Patriots made it to the Super Bowl despite never having a healthy receiving corps. Injuries took away Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell’s 2017 seasons while limiting Chris Hogan to just nine regular-season games. However, with the whole crew healthy, the Pats wide receivers are set to be one of the best groupings in football.
2018 New England Patriots Wide Receivers: The Perfect Complements
There’s no overstating how much Edelman’s presence will reshape the Patriots offense in 2018. Like Wes Welker before him, Edelman has mastered the art of the option route and shares an unparalleled chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady. He can get open on any part of the field but thrives on quick, short passes over the middle.
Edelman isn’t afraid to get hit and earn the tough yards and is great at making defenders miss in space. With Edelman gone, nobody really stepped up in that role and the Patriots had to adapt. Fellow receiver Danny Amendola was basically saved for the playoffs, so for the majority of the regular season, the Patriots just did without Edelman’s role. It’s anyone’s guess how Edelman will look coming off an ACL injury, but his Twitter page makes it seem like he’s recovering well. When Edelman returns, defenses will have to put more focus on stopping quick passes over the middle. That shift in focus should open things up for…
New England acquired Cooks from the New Orleans Saints in the 2017 off-season to serve as the home run hitter in this offense. While he’s not Randy Moss, Cook’s speed and ability to gain separation deep provided Brady with his best deep threat since the legendary Hall of Famer himself.
However, due to Edelman’s injury, Cooks had to do a lot more than just run deep. Cooks became the team’s top receiver, and thus defenses spent more time worrying about how to slow his production. Nonetheless, Cooks still produced. The first-year Patriot had one of the more productive seasons in Patriots history, hauling in 65 passes for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. His best outing came in the AFC Championship Game when he caught six passes for 100 yards and drew several pass interference calls against one of the best cornerback duos in football.
By all accounts, Cooks had a great season even though teams were using their best cornerbacks to try and slow him down. With Edelman back, Cooks is no longer the biggest threat on the team. He won’t face as many double teams, which should lead to even bigger production. Brady never misses the open man, and it’s impossible to consistently cover Edelman and Cooks for a whole game.
While Edelman was the biggest absence, the Patriots are getting another big piece of their offense back in 2018. Mitchell missed all of 2017 with a knee injury after posting one of the better rookie seasons for a Patriots receiver. He almost came back for the playoff run, which means he should be full go for the 2018 season.
Mitchell is the perimeter receiver of Brady’s dreams. He’s listed at only 5’11”, but he plays as though he’s 6’3”. Mitchell showed great ability to win with size on the outside and bring in contested passes in tight windows. His presence alone was a big reason the Patriots were able to come back against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51.
Mitchell isn’t yet in the same class as players like Cooks and Edelman, but he offers something unique that those two can’t. He’s too good to overlook, and if opposing defenses exert all their resources into stopping Cooks, Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, he’ll make them pay.
Hogan could be the biggest beneficiary of the rest of the receivers returning to health. Hogan can get separation on deep and intermediate routes, but he doesn’t do it consistently enough. Basically, he’s a great number three or four receiver.
Hogan’s the type of player who can make defenses pay for overlooking him. He first burst onto the scene in the 2016 AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hogan was uncovered all day, and he punished that Steelers defense for nine catches, 180 yards, and two touchdowns. In Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles, Hogan hauled in six receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Hogan was great in those games because he was exploiting the weak pieces of opposing defenses. Pittsburgh ran a soft zone, which allowed Brady to align Hogan against whomever he pleased. The Eagles were so focused on stopping Gronkowski and Amendola that Hogan became an afterthought.
Hogan isn’t the type of player capable of consistently beating the best part of an opposing defense. Because of all the injuries, Hogan took on a bigger role, and his weaknesses became more pronounced. With Edelman and Mitchell back, Hogan’s role should be specialized, which should let him produce more effectively.
Sure, Amendola is a free agent, but he’ll be a Patriot next year. Amendola never puts up gaudy numbers in the regular season but is always there when the Patriots need a big play. This past season, Amendola caught 34 of his 61 receptions on third or fourth down. If his regular season clutch heroics weren’t enough, Amendola dominates in the playoffs. Amendola caught 26 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns this past postseason.
Amendola’s issue has always been health. The Patriots typically try to keep Amendola off the field as much as possible to preserve him for the playoffs and key situations. This isn’t a problem when Edelman’s healthy. Edelman can do everything Amendola can, and more. Having Amendola on the bench is fine when Edelman’s out there, and having both is a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Amendola doesn’t get that same injury protection when Edelman’s out of the game. Nobody can do what Edelman does for the offense, but Amendola comes the closest. Edelman missed considerable time in both 2015 and 2017. To nobody’s surprise, Amendola’s best production came during those two seasons. However, in each season Amendola suffered some type of injury. In 2015, he suffered a knee injury that clearly limited him until the end of the season. In 2017, he dealt with a concussion, forcing him to miss a game.
Edelman stayed healthy for the duration of the 2014 and 2016 seasons, and Amendola stayed healthy both years. Amendola was a big part of both of those Super Bowl runs, and the Patriots are probably still looking for banner number four were it not for Amendola. With Edelman back, Amendola should remain rested and ready to roll for the 2018 playoffs.
The 2017 Patriots were the best offense in football despite missing some of their best receiving talents. Heading into 2018 with a fully healthy supporting cast will only make that offense better. Edelman and Mitchell’s roles were never truly filled in 2017, and their presence in 2018 should only help Cooks, Hogan, and Amendola in 2018. If this grouping can stay healthy in 2018, the Patriots should once again be one of the best offenses in football.