2018 was a strange year for the New England Patriots, but it ended with a familiar outcome. For the third time in five years, the Patriots finished the season hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. However, just because they were the best team in the league doesn’t mean that the roster is perfect heading into 2019. Let’s take a look at how the Patriots wide receivers performed in 2018, and what the positional outlook is for 2019.
2018 Review: New England Patriots Wide Receivers
New England’s best receiver throughout the season was Julian Edelman. After missing the first four games of the season due to a suspension, the 32-year slot receiver returned to the field and immediately established himself as the top option in the passing game. Playing in 12 games, Edelman recorded 74 receptions for 850 yards and six touchdowns.
As is a January tradition, Edelman saved his best play for the postseason. Starting all three postseason contests, Edelman finished his playoff run with a combined 26 receptions for 388 yards. His best game came in Super Bowl LIII, as the ten-year Patriot recorded 10 receptions for 141 yards en route to winning Super Bowl MVP honors. New England’s passing attack had its’ highs and lows throughout the season, but Edelman was the key piece in the offense.
The Mostly Good
Edelman was the unquestioned star, but the Patriots had a trio of receivers who played valuable roles throughout the 2018 season. Acquired in a midseason trade, former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon helped bring a different dimension to New England’s offense. Playing in 11 games, Gordon recorded 40 receptions for 720 yards and three touchdowns in a Patriots uniform. Unfortunately, Gordon missed the end of the season after stepping away from football to battle his addiction problems. The 27-year old is currently suspended, but reports say that ban could be lifted as early as May. It’s no guarantee, but Gordon could be back in 2019.
Phillip Dorsett was fantastic whenever he was actually given the opportunity to contribute. Playing in all 16 games, Dorsett finished his season with a pedestrian 32 receptions for 290 yards and three touchdowns. However, he managed to put up those numbers on just 42 targets. Dorsett’s 76.2% catch rate was fantastic for a wide receiver, and his 60% success rate on targets was only two points behind Edelman. Dorsett did everything asked of him, but simply didn’t see the field enough to grab national attention.
Cordarrelle Patterson, while not a complete wide receiver, was a fantastic chess piece in Josh McDaniels’ offense. The first-year Patriot finished his season with 21 receptions for 247 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 42 carries for 228 yards and a touchdown. McDaniels is one of the most creative offensive minds in the league, and Patterson is one of the most dangerous players in the open field. This pairing was a match made in heaven, as Patterson provided an explosive element to New England’s offense throughout the season.
The Not So Great
2018 was supposed to be a breakout season for Chris Hogan. With Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola out of the picture, Hogan was supposed to take the next step as New England’s number two receiver. Instead, the 30-year old regressed. Playing in all 16 games, Hogan recorded 35 receptions for 532 yards and three touchdowns. He struggled to beat man coverage and had the lowest wide receiver success rate on the team.
The biggest problem with Hogan appeared to be a surprising lack of chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Hogan averaged 4.1 yards of separation on his routes. This was one of the best rankings in the league, meaning Hogan was finding holes in the defense. However, for whatever reason, Brady and Hogan just couldn’t connect.
Looking Into 2019
Four of New England’s five main receivers from 2018 are set to hit free agency. Josh Gordon is a restricted free agent, while Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, and Cordarrelle Patterson will be unrestricted free agents. New England probably won’t bring everyone back, so there’s going to be some turnover at the position.
Of the four free agents, Gordon and Patterson have the best odds of returning to New England. As a restricted free agent, the Patriots still have Gordon’s rights. It’s highly unlikely another team makes a qualifying offer and risks draft compensation for a player as risky as Gordon. Chances are Gordon’s NFL career lives and dies in Foxboro. Patterson is a perfect chess piece for New England’s offense and Josh McDaniels should only increase his usage in 2019. Dorsett’s a good player, but he’ll probably look for more opportunity elsewhere. Similarly, Hogan turned down an extension prior to 2018. Chances are, he’ll aim for a pay raise on the open market.
The only two receivers of note under contract for 2019 are Julian Edelman and the wholly-untested Braxton Berrios. Even if the Patriots can get two of their free agents back, they should look to upgrade the position. With Julian Edelman entering the final year of his contract, the Patriots could look to sign someone like Golden Tate, Adam Humphries, or Cole Beasley as a potential replacement. If they’re looking for more of a deep threat, Baltimore’s John Brown could be a smart low-cost acquisition.
New England enters the 2019 NFL Draft with a staggering 12 selections. Chances are, one of them will be used on a wide receiver. The Patriots typically don’t take receivers early in the draft, so a mid- to late-round selections like Hunter Renfrow or Andy Isabella would make a lot of sense.
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