Plenty of questions remain for Josh Gordon and the Patriots receiving corps

Andy Hart
August 27, 2019 - 6:43 am
Categories: 

They say all’s well that ends well.

Listen to your team news NOW.

They also say that it’s not how you start that’s important, but how you finish.

Not sure who they are, but Tom Brady and the fans of Patriot Nation clearly hope they are as prescient as they are cliché in regards to the team’s wide receiver position in 2019.

Because as much as New England added plenty of veteran potential to the wide receiver depth chart over the last week or so, there is no doubt that heading toward the regular season the position still has as many questions as it does would-be answers.

Certainly it’s great that Julian Edelman (NFI), Josh Gordon (NFI) and Demaryius Thomas (PUP) have joined the active roster and are in full pads practicing with the rest of their teammates as the final days of August wind down and the Sunday night regular season opener with the Steelers draws near.

But beyond the 33-year-old Edelman – who we all know if healthy will be Brady’s most frequent and likely most productive target, at least in terms of volume – there is really not another receiver that’s beyond question at this point.

How long will Gordon, whose substance abuse issues are well documented over his athletic career, be available? Yes, he became a trusted playmaker on the outside for Brady a year ago when he averaged 18 yards per catch, but he also was suspended indefinitely by December and unavailable when the games mattered the most. It’s not insensitive to question Gordon’s ability to stay available – which Bill Belichick himself has calculated as the most important ability – it’s simply the harsh reality of his personal history.

What does Thomas bring to the table at this point, soon to be a 32-year-old target coming off the second torn Achilles of his career last December? Sure he went to five straight Pro Bowls for the Broncos, but that was three years ago. Heck, he even admitted in his first meeting with the media that there are days when he feels like his past explosive talents are returning to him and days that he can’t feel it. What if the former days are too infrequent and the latter stick around longer than he might expect? Thomas’ 59 catches split between Denver and Houston in 15 games a year ago are nothing to sneeze at, even if they don’t exactly replicate his old 100-catch, 1,400-plus yard days. But what if he’s not even that anymore after another major injury on the wrong side of 30?

Is first-round pick N’Keal Harry going to be in the early-season mix after limping off the field in the preseason opener in Detroit? And even if/when he returns to full health, are the three weeks of time in which he’s been at least limited in practice going to stunt his rookie development to the point where he’s less impactful than he could have been? It’s hard enough to prove yourself as a rookie receiver in the NFL, even harder in the complex Patriots offense and harder yet when you aren’t healthy enough to practice in August to lay the foundation for on-field game production. If we’re being honest, Harry is a complete wild card.

Even the most consistent, productive receiver from practice and preseason action brings questions with him to what is now a presumed roster spot. Undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers impressed all summer on the practice field and clearly has built a preseason rapport with backup Jarrett Stidham. Unfortunately his only game reps with Brady – the two have found success in practice and joint practice action –led to three incompletions and, as Meyers described it, the rookie “being yelled at by Tom Brady.” Meyers may have a bright future, but he knows he has a lot of work to do in terms of building a chemistry with TB12 and the time to build that trust, especially with all the veterans back on the practice field with the preseason winding down, is becoming extremely limited.

Veteran Phillip Dorsett, who’s clearly entered Brady’s circle of trust, isn’t even beyond doubt at this point. Yes he catches everything thrown his way. But he also tends to get almost zero yards after the catch – he averaged less than 10 yards a catch a year ago and less than 7 per grab as Brady’s go-to guy in the third preseason game. Is Dorsett capable of being more than a complementary option if the questions about guys like Gordon, Thomas and Harry turn out for the negative? Remember, a year ago Dorsett was asked to do more in September when Edelman was suspended. The result of that was an offense that struggled at times for a team that opened the year just 2-2 and New England pulling off a seemingly desperate trade for Gordon.

So, is the Patriots wide receiver position deeper and filled with more potential than it was just a couple weeks ago? Yes.

Is it, as some have proclaimed, now one of the deepest and most talented groups in the NFL? A quick look at places like Los Angeles, Atlanta and Minnesota would probably answer that question pretty quickly.

Even Brady is taking things slow right now, clearly happy that he has some more veteran options to work with, but also taking the potential of the group in stride given the work that very much remains to be done.

"When we can have all those guys out there, that is a great thing for the quarterback," Brady said Monday during his weekly appearance on The Greg Hill Show. “"The better players that are out there, I think the more productive our offense can be. We’re going to have to bring a lot of different parts together to try and do that.

“Good offensive football is about 11 guys being on the same page and trusting and anticipating, great communication day after day after day and that is really what we’re working towards. I don’t think we’re going to be there right now, but we have to build towards that. We have a long season ahead of us, but we have to continue to make improvements every day.”

Hope, talent and potential are a wonderful thing. As Brady alluded to, he has more of all of those things at his disposal at the receiver position now than was the case earlier this summer or even at other points in his career.

But hope, talent and potential only get you so far in the bottom-line, production-based business that is the NFL.

If the Patriots veteran receivers all come together perfectly and answer all the questions they face both individually and as a group, certainly Brady and the passing game should be more than OK.

But right now, that remains a big if.

Related: Patrick Chung declines comment on recent indictment: 'I am here to get ready for the Giants'