The New England Patriots continue to make noise on the open market. Just one day after adding tight end Ben Watson, the Patriots added another pass catcher in former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Dontrelle Inman. New England lost Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Rob Gronkowski in the off-season and have a lot of questions at the receiver position. Is Inman capable of stepping up and playing a role in New England’s offense?
Projecting Dontrelle Inman in New England Patriots Offense
Dontrelle Inman is not the player you think of when imagining a prototypical Patriots wide receiver. At 6’3”, Inman is a big, physical receiver capable of lining up and winning on the outside. This continues an off-season trend where New England appears to be trying to improve their size at the wide receiver position. As of this posting, the Patriots have added seven wide receivers to the roster since Super Bowl LIII. Of those seven, only undrafted free agent Ryan Davis is shorter than 6’2”.
Throughout the course of his career, Inman has predominantly played on the outside. According to Player Profiler, Inman only spent 29.8% of his snaps in the slot in 2018. In 2017, that number was just 5.9%. Based on his previous experience and the current needs of the roster, Inman will likely spend the majority of his time lined up wide.
Inman’s most impressive trait is easily his route running. The Virginia product has quick feet and is capable of creating enough separation with his plus acceleration. He also has good hands, as Player Profiler credited him with just one drop throughout the 2018 season. He’s a good receiver when he’s at his best and he saved his best football for the final stretch of 2018. The first-year Colt caught all eight of his postseason targets for 108 yards and one touchdown, good for an 80.5 grade from Pro Football Focus.
Dontrelle Inman highlights vs Tennessee (2018)
1st play: 24 yard catch
2nd play: 11 yard TD
3rd play: 29 yard catch pic.twitter.com/hgpwqWY4C8
— '04 Rabih Abdullah (@ftbeard_17) May 10, 2019
The biggest knock against Inman is his lack of full-season success. While he’s flashed the ability to be a starting-caliber receiver, he hasn’t been able to consistently display that skillset. Inman had a fantastic year in 2016, recording 58 receptions for 810 yards and four touchdowns with the San Diego Chargers. However, outside of that one season, Inman has never recorded more than 35 receptions, 486 yards, or three touchdowns in any given year.
Additionally, Inman isn’t the best at gaining separation. While his route-running prowess gives him the ability to separate from defenders, he’s rarely able to completely shake a defender. According to his Player Profiler page, Inman averaged just 0.97 yards of separation per route run in 2018. This obviously isn’t great, but Inman’s soft hands and above-average 41.7% contested catch rate allow him to make up for his relative lack of separation skills.
The Underlying Numbers
Fortunately, the underlying numbers imply that Inman could be a great weapon if given a chance. According to Sharp Football Stats, Inman had a 131 passer rating and a 70% success rate when targeted last season. Both the passer rating and success rate led the Colts among players with more than 10 targets.
On top of that, Inman’s strengths appear to align perfectly with New England’s offense. According to Sharp Football Stats, Inman did most of his work in the short portion of the field. 37 of Inman’s 47 targets came within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. Inman turned those 37 targets into 30 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 124.2 passer rating.
This is good news for quarterback Tom Brady, as Inman’s abilities play to Brady’s strengths. Including the playoffs, 560 of Brady’s 695 pass attempts were within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. Brady was efficient on these throws, completing 73% of his pass attempts for 3,895 yards, 21 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a 58% success rate. The interception total is high, but that value is artificially inflated by a series of interceptions which weren’t Brady’s fault. His 58% success rate on short throws was tied for the fourth-best mark in the league.
Last Word on Dontrelle Inman
Dontrelle Inman is a great signing who should be the second- or third-best wide receiver come Week One. He was great with the San Diego Chargers in 2016 and was one of the Colts most efficient weapons in 2018. He’s a talented route runner with a large frame and reliable hands and should be a great fit in this offense.
Inman might not have the year-to-year success you’d like to see, but all the underlying numbers suggest he could be good when given a chance. His success rate when targeted was the best on the 2018 Colts and his abilities perfectly align with New England’s offense.
That said, he’s not going to be a 1,000-yard receiver. Inman’s inability to separate will ultimately prevent him from developing into a legitimate number two receiver. However, just because he won’t be a star doesn’t mean that he can’t be an important part of the offense. Look for Inman to finish 2019 with around 50 receptions for 600 yards and five touchdowns.
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