Entering training camp, Jordan Matthews looked to be in line for a big role on the New England Patriots. With Julian Edelman suspended the first four games, Matthews was the frontrunner to be the team’s top slot receiver. However, the Patriots released Matthews after the receiver suffered a “serious” hamstring injury. The slot receiver position is incredibly important in the Patriots offense, and this injury will drastically affect the rest of the roster. Let’s take a look at how the Jordan Matthews injury affects the New England Patriots roster.
How the Jordan Matthews Injury Affects the Patriot Offense
Matthews was the favorite to win the slot position in large part because of his experience. The Patriots offense is notorious for being one of the most complex schemes in the league. Even veterans struggle with it and trusting an inexperienced player to learn it all is asking for trouble. When on the Patriots, players need to be both physically and mentally capable of doing their jobs. If they’re incapable of either, they won’t see the field.
However, with Matthews gone, the Patriots top slot options are now rookie Braxton Berrios and 2017 practice squad member Riley McCarron. Berrios could be the slot receiver of the future, but he has an uphill climb to be productive in 2018. Not only does he need to adjust to life in the NFL, but he also needs to enter Tom Brady’s circle of trust. That’s a lot for one off-season, especially when the rookie missed the grand majority of minicamp.
While McCarron has more experience thanks to his 2017 stint on the practice squad, he’s not a polished receiver. Despite posting fantastic measurables at his pro day, McCarron caught just 50 receptions for 584 yards. He has the athleticism to win the job, but he needs to develop his raw skills before he’s ready to contribute on the professional level.
Additionally, these players will be fighting history. During the Brady Era, only Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Malcolm Mitchell have recorded more than 30 receptions in their rookie season. Of those five, Dobson is the only player to eclipse 500 yards receiving. Simply put, Berrios and McCarron both have a long way to go if they’re to save the day in 2018.
Possible Veteran Help
There are a few interesting names available in free agency if the Patriots don’t trust Berrios or McCarron to get the job done. So far, it appears like Eric Decker is at the top option for New England. Earlier in the off-season, Decker listed the Patriots as a good fit, and New England recently brought Decker in for a workout. He’s not a slot receiver, but he’s something.
While Decker’s veteran experience would be nice, he’s not the receiver he once was. After missing the majority of 2016 with an injury, Decker looked like a shell of himself throughout 2017. He’s lost a step and isn’t as crisp in his route running. While he could be a serviceable emergency option, his days as a starting receiver look to be long behind him.
The best receiver currently on the market is former Dallas Cowboy Dez Bryant. Bryant isn’t the dominating force he once was, but he’s still capable of using his size and strength to win contested passes. Bryant shouldn’t be the top option in an offense, but in New England, he wouldn’t have to be. Most likely, Bryant would be no more than the second or third option in the passing game. Bryant is more than capable of playing that type of a role. If anything, Bryant could actually be an upgrade. He wouldn’t attack from the slot, but he’d be a great fit as the X-receiver.
Another intriguing fit would be former Baltimore Raven Jeremy Maclin. Maclin is a versatile receiver, capable of lining up both inside and outside. In many ways, Maclin might be the closest replacement to Matthews and Edelman available. Maclin finished his 2017 campaign with an underwhelming 40 receptions for 440 yards and three touchdowns. However, the Patriots were reportedly interested in him during the 2017 off-season. If New England believes 2017 was nothing more than a down year, they could kick the tires on the eight-year veteran.
Embed from Getty Images