Examining complex Patriots wide receiver competition where all options appear on the table

Ryan Hannable
August 14, 2019 - 7:49 am

NASHVILLE — Wide receiver is one of the most competitive positions on the entire Patriots roster.

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Competition is always a good thing, but is it really a good thing when the competition is for the No. 4 and 5 spots, and the Nos. 1-3 spots aren’t exactly known?

This is where the Patriots find themselves heading into joint practices with the Titans before Saturday’s second preseason game.

“We have a lot of guys who can play and a lot of guys who are getting better every day,” Phillip Dorsett said. “They are working hard and that is all you can really ask for. Everyone can play, but what separates you is your preparation and what you do off the field. We have a lot of players doing great things out there.”

There’s no doubt Julian Edelman is the No. 1 receiver even though he’s on NFI and hasn’t participated in any practice to this point in the summer. He was MVP of the Super Bowl and no single receiver in history has had better chemistry with Tom Brady than he does.

After that? All combinations are on the table, including potentially some surprise cuts.

Making matters even more complicated are two proven players — Demaryius Thomas and Cameron Meredith — who are on the roster, but on PUP. As of now, it seems highly unlikely they will be on the roster for Week 1, but they should at least be considered in the plans at the position for the season. 

In addition, Josh Gordon is always a possibility as well.

“We know that, but obviously we don’t know what they have going on with them,” Dorsett said of the receivers on PUP. “Whatever they have going on, hopefully they can get on the field as fast as they can. At the end of the day we’re worried about the now and how can we get better on the field. That is our main focus.”

With them not being factors for Week 1, that leaves rookie N’Keal Harry and Dorsett next on the depth chart.

It’s been quite the summer so far for Harry, who has had a number of ups and downs, including injuries. At the beginning, it seemed he was struggling to grasp the offense and that was impacting his ability to make simple catches. He turned a corner in Detroit, and even made two contested catches in the game to show off his skills, but then left the game with an undisclosed lower leg injury.

Being a rookie, Harry needs to be on the field as much as he can and it appears he won’t be available for the entire week with the Titans. By losing so much time with Brady and the offense, it’s hard to say what he will be able to do come Week 1.

Then there’s Dorsett. He’s a fine player to have on a roster, but really isn’t a No. 2 or 3 receiver like it's looking like come the start of the season. He’s shown the ability to have Brady’s trust, but in his two seasons with the Patriots hasn’t shown the ability to be a true difference-maker and has been more of a situational player.

After that, it’s a battle for the final two, three or four spots. Including Matthew Slater, the team could go with six receivers, or even seven depending on other positions. Battling for those spots are veterans Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman, Braxton Berrios and then undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Ryan Davis.

Of these players, Meyers and Harris have looked the best with Berrios making a late push and showing his value on special teams. Our last roster projection had all of those players making it — Edelman, Harry, Dorsett, Meyers, Harris and Berrios.

But, there’s also the potential for a surprise cut or two.

While Harris has been impressive, he doesn’t have any special teams value and if he’s the No. 4 receiver, typically Bill Belichick wants those players on the roster to be versatile. That would give the edge to Meyers and Berrios.

Speaking of Berrios, while he’s been the main returner, the team has tried other veterans out including Rex Burkhead, Jonathan Jones and Brandon Bolden. If any of those three prove they can do it, there may be no need to keep Berrios around.

Belichick is always good for a surprise or two on cut-down day and what if this year it’s at the wide receiver position?

Dorsett is on the books for $2.5 million against the cap and if Belichick feels he can get similar production out of say the rookies, why not let him go and save a few bucks? It seems unlikely, but you never know.

Following last Thursday’s preseason game, everyone was raving about the receiver position and how deep it is. But, is it really? The No. 2/3 receivers are Harry and Dorsett, and then the players battling for the No. 4 and 5 spots are role players in some cases.

Having competition is usually a good thing because it leads to deeper rosters, but when it’s the No. 4 and 5 spots that have the actual competition, does it really help the roster much?

“I think it is great,” Dorsett said, “It is always good to have depth. It is the NFL, we have a lot of guys who can play. If you can’t play, you wouldn’t be here. We are making each other better every day. We compete. There is friendly competition and that is all you can ask for.”

As the regular season nears and cuts have to be made, the Patriots have a lot of players battling for spots, but unlike in past years where the battles have been at the top, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing for the long-term outlook of the position.

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