Hannable: Patriots definitely have concerns at wide receiver, but it shouldn’t matter

Ryan Hannable
August 25, 2018 - 2:16 am

Jim Dedmon/USA Today Sports

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CHARLOTTE — With this being Tom Brady’s 19th season in the NFL, he’s played with some pretty bad wide receiver groups and this year’s is right up there with them.

This wasn’t supposed to be the case, as going into OTAs and minicamp the Patriots actually were fairly deep at the position, but since have lost Julian Edelman for the first four games due to his suspension and have released Jordan Matthews, Malcolm Mitchell and most recently Kenny Britt.

Now, for the first four weeks of the season, it will come down to Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Matthew Slater, Eric Decker, Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien and Paul Turner. The first three are locks at this point and Slater should be if healthy, which means the last spot should come down to one of the final five players except no one seems to want it.

The No. 4 receiver spot is there for the taking and no one has done anything to claim it.

Friday night against the Panthers Berrios missed his second straight game for an unknown reason. Decker continues to struggle to pick up the offense and looks lost at times, including on the first series of the second half when Brian Hoyer threw a pass well over his head and Decker never even saw it, and then he had a false start penalty on the next play. McCarron made a few tough catches, but then also had a few bad drops. And finally, Lucien and Turner barely played.

Given the Patriots only have three real dependable options at receiver to open the year right now and Week 1 is just over two weeks away, it’s fair to say the team has concerns at the position.

But, it shouldn’t even matter.

The Patriots have so much pass-catching talent at positions other than receiver, it should be able to offset the lack of depth.

At running back, James White is among the top receiving backs in the entire NFL. Last season he caught 56 passes for 429 yards. The 56 catches would have been third among Patriots wide receivers, as Brandin Cooks had 65 and Danny Amendola had 61. Don’t sleep on Rex Burkhead, either. In just 10 games, he had 30 receptions on 36 targets for 254 yards and three touchdowns. 

And it isn’t like all these catches came on screen plays, Josh McDaniels is not afraid to have a back line up wide as a receiver to get the proper matchup that way.

Tight end is the same way. Obviously, there’s Rob Gronkowski, but there’s also second-year player Jacob Hollister. Hollister could be one of the biggest surprises on the entire team, as he’s a much better player than he was as a rookie a year ago. 

Hollister and Brady have spent extensive time together after practices this summer working on their timing and the 41-year-old has praised the young tight end time and time again for how much he’s grown, as well as for his work ethic. Standing 6-foot-4, 239 pounds, Hollister is more of a pass-catching tight end instead of a pure blocking tight end and it should show.

Over the years the Patriots have adopted the “next man up” phrase, but when it comes to the wide receiver position issue this year, the phrase can be tweaked to “next position up.”

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