Organized Team Activities haven’t even begun, yet the New England Patriots wide receiver depth chart is already completely revamped from 2017. New England traded Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams, watched Danny Amendola leave for the Miami Dolphins, and got Julian Edelman back from a season-ending ACL injury. All this roster turnover means that the wide receiver training camp battle is must-see action.
Breaking Down the New England Patriots Wide Receiver Depth Chart
Difference-Making Starters: Julian Edelman
As of this posting, the Patriots really only have one true star wide receiver. Edelman has easily been the best Patriots receiver since 2013, and New England immensely missed his services in 2017. Quarterback Tom Brady still won MVP without him, but there were several stretches where Brady clearly missed his favorite target.
Amendola performed admirably in Edelman’s absence, but there’s no replacing a player of Edelman’s caliber. Edelman can line up all over the field and can run every route in the tree. He’s an absolute monster after the catch, and his mastery of the option route is second to none. Brady and Edelman have a magical connection, and a year off shouldn’t affect that chemistry.
Granted, there’s some worry about how Edelman will return from injury. ACL injuries aren’t easy to return from and can be a kiss of death to players over 30 who rely on shiftiness. However, Edelman’s come back from serious injuries before, and they’ve never slowed him down. Pound for pound, there may not be a tougher guy in the league than Edelman. Until he gives a reason to doubt him, expect Edelman to be a full go for the regular season.
Battling to Start: Mitchell, Hogan, Matthews
The depth chart behind Edelman is filled with either underwhelming options or giant question marks. It will be an all-out battle for the second starting spot, but the three most likely candidates are Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, and Jordan Matthews.
If healthy, Mitchell is easily the best option of the three. Mitchell missed 2017 with a lingering knee injury, which caused some to forget how good he was in 2016. Mitchell has the size, quickness, and speed to operate as a true outside receiver. Outside of Edelman, he’s the only member of the Patriots capable of consistently beating man coverage against top cornerbacks. He was paramount to the Super Bowl LI comeback, as his presence ruined the Atlanta Falcons game plan.
Matthews could be Amendola’s heir, but once again that depends on health. From 2013 to 2016, Matthews had the most slot receiving yards in the league, per Pro Football Focus. He had a rough 2017 with the Buffalo Bills but was never healthy. If he can return to his old form, the Patriots may have another steal on their hands.
If all else fails, the reliable, yet slightly underwhelming Hogan will take the second receiver position. 2017 showed that Hogan can be a capable starter with Brady throwing the rock, but it also exposed his limitations. He can’t consistently get open against man coverage and often needs to be schemed open in order to make plays.
That’s not to say he’s useless – quite the opposite. Hogan’s tools match up perfectly with the Patriots scheme, and he was made to beat man coverage. Essentially, he’s the perfect third receiver, which is what he was in 2016. He can serve as the second receiver if he absolutely has to, but he’s better utilized as the top bench option.
Role-Players: Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt
The veteran portion of the depth chart is rounded out by a series of journeymen capable of filling a small part of the Patriots offense. Of the three aforementioned receivers, Cordarrelle Patterson is probably the most intriguing. Most fans think of Patterson solely as a returner and special teams player. While that is his bread and butter, he actually is able to contribute to the offense, albeit in a minimal role.
Over his five seasons in the league, Patterson typically averages 30-50 receptions per season for anywhere from 300-475 yards. He’s nothing spectacular, but those are decent numbers for a third or fourth receiver. Additionally, Patterson is a monster in open space and can contribute on gadget running plays that give him the ball in space. He won’t be the focal point of the offense by any means, but he’s certainly capable of playing a smaller, defined role in the offense.
Kenny Britt joined the squad late in 2017, and the Patriots surprisingly picked up his option heading into the 2018 season. Doing this shows New England liked what they saw from Britt, and he could be on the inside track for one of the final roster spots. He’s had an up and down career but is only one season removed from being the only 1,000-yard receiver on the anemic 2016 Los Angeles Rams. If Jeff Fisher can squeeze that type of production out of Britt, imagine what Bill Belichick can do.
The Odd-Man Out: Phillip Dorsett
Phillip Dorsett spent the 2017 off-season with the Indianapolis Colts before arriving in New England just one week before the start of the regular season. While he has the advantage of having a full off-season with the team, he probably won’t make the cut this year. Throughout his career, the first-round draft bust has never been anything more than a below-average third wide receiver, and only hauled in twelve passes all year.
This lack of production wasn’t due to a lack of opportunity, either. With Edelman gone all year and Hogan missing the second half of the season, Dorsett was given an opportunity to be a reliable weapon. Instead, he faltered. Despite being the second outside receiver, Dorsett couldn’t elevate his game or be a threat in the passing game. Quite frankly, there isn’t room on this roster for a limited one-trick pony who doesn’t play special teams.
The Wild Card: Braxton Berrios
Most sixth-round draft selections don’t arrive with much hype, but Braxton Berrios is the exception to that rule. Despite being a sixth-round selection, Berrios was made specifically for the New England Patriots. Ever since 2007 with the addition of Wes Welker, the Patriots offense has revolved around a slot receiver capable of dominating option routes.
Obviously, it’s premature to put that type of pressure on a sixth-round rookie. It took Welker, Amendola, and Edelman years before they were able to develop into the type of players they were at their peak. Berrios won’t put together a 100-catch, 1,000-yard season, but he has that potential. Look for the Patriots to try to stow the talented slot receiver on the roster.
Week One Depth Chart: Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Braxton Berrios, Matt Slater
The only two roster locks are Edelman and Hogan, and most of these positions will be decided in training camp. However, assuming everyone is healthy by Week One (a terrible assumption), this would be the best Patriots depth chart.
Edelman is the unquestionably the best player on the depth chart, while Mitchell can be the physical receiver who thrives on intermediate routes and winning contested catches. Matthews can serve as this year’s Amendola, working in the slot while Edelman aligns out wide. Much like 2016, Hogan will split time with Mitchell and serve as the teams’ best deep threat, although in 2018 Mitchell will see a higher portion of the snaps. Throw in Patterson for a gadget play every now and again, and you’ve got one hard offense to stop.
That being said, betting on health isn’t the wisest decision with this lineup. Chances are, one of the above players will suffer some type of injury, forcing them to miss Week One. Depending on the severity, they’ll either go on the injured reserve or be cut altogether. Should this happen, look for Kenny Britt to be the first beneficiary.
Berrios will be something of a wasted roster spot, but he’s too good to let loose. He probably won’t beat out Matthews in 2018, but he has the second-highest ceiling of any Patriots sixth-round pick. New England should opt to keep him in place of a fifth running back or a fourth tight end.
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