State of the Patriots: Julian Edelman and then what at WR?

Andy Hart
February 18, 2020 - 10:19 am
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As the NFL offseason heads toward free agency and the draft, all 32 teams must assess their own talent before they begin anew the roster-building process. With that in mind, WEEI.com is taking a position-by-position look at the state of the Patriots roster.

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Wide receiver

Returning players: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu Jr., Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross

Free agents: Phillip Dorsett II, Matthew Slater

2019 recap: Last fall the wide receiver position with the Patriots was as interesting a depth chart as almost any position for any team in all of football. In the end, though, despite early contributions from Josh Gordon (20 catches for 287 yards and a touchdown in six starts before his release) and a Week 2 cameo for Antonio Brown in Miami (4 catches for 56 yards and a touchdown) the position was a hole in the Patriots offense other than the immense, gutty contributions from Julian Edelman (100 catches for 1,117 yards and six touchdowns). Despite fighting through chest, shoulder and knee injuries, Edelman remained Tom Brady’s go-to guy and only consistent, reliable option. First-round pick N’Keal Harry missed the first half of the season on injured reserve and was inconsistent, at best, upon his return with 12 catches for 105 yards and two scores in seven games played with five starts. New England traded a second-round pick to the Falcons or the Mohamed Sanu Jr., but got little in return as the veteran battled an ankle injury and dropped passes on the way to 26 catches for 207 yards and one score in eight games with six starts. After a big opening day with 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Pittsburgh, veteran Phillip Dorsett went on to have a relatively quiet season with 29 catches for 397 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games with four starts. Undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers did his best to contribute with 26 catches for 359 yards, but was very much an inconsistent rookie who consistently talked about the pressure felt by young receivers in the Brady-led New England offense. Fellow undrafted rookie Gunner Olszewski was the team’s primary punt returner until he went on injured reserve after eight games. Overall, New England’s receiving corps was a disappointing mix of inconsistent talent and inconsistent production in 2019 for anyone not name Edelman.

2020 projection: Despite the prevailing narrative this offseason, the Patriots wide receiver depth chart is not without talent. As he approaches his 34th birthday and hopes to get back to health, Edelman hasn’t really shown signs of slowing production. Assuming TB12 returns to New England, he’ll likely be looking to JE11 early and often in 2020. After that, there is potential that’s yet to be reached in a Patriots uniform. Harry needs to stay healthy and put forth the Year 2 jump one might expect from the second receiver taken in last year’s talented draft class, the first receiver ever picked by Bill Belichick in the first round in New England. There is plenty of reason to doubt Harry’s future as a No. 1 WR, but he deserves the chance to prove his worth. Sanu is under contract with a $6.5 million salary that’s had some in the media questioning if he might be a surprise cut. But given his past production and that the team gave up a second-round pick to get him, reportedly at Brady’s request, Sanu probably should get an opportunity to prove he has something left in the tank as he approaches his 31st birthday. He is, after all, a durable guy who caught 59-plus passes in each of the last four seasons. Meyers showed some definite talent and potential last summer and fall, but must find more consistency. Even then, he’s likely a complementary option at best, which puts him well ahead of the practice squad returnees Quincy Adeboyejo and Devin Ross.

Draft/free agency need – Medium: If the glass is half full, Edelman, Harry and Sanu aren’t a bad start to a competitive receiving corps, despite all that went wrong for the trio a year ago. But there have to be doubts – internally and externally – as to how comfortable the team is relying on Harry and Sanu as key parts of a passing attack that’s coming off a lackluster season. Much has been made about the idea that Brady’s potential return/departure in free agency has a lot to do with the offense around him and what kind of plan the team has to support its aging G.O.A.T. QB. That would certainly imply a need to add more talent, depth and playmaking ability. In terms of the draft the wide receiver class is considered to be very good, maybe one of the best of all time. But would Belichick take a receiver in the first-round two years in a row? The Patriots might be more likely to pursue veteran talent via either free agency or trade. While the team’s internal thoughts and expectations for Harry and Sanu will likely dictate how aggressively New England pursues talent at wide receiver, it’s safe to say there is a need to bring in mid- or high-level competition to the wide receiver depth chart.

Related: Fast Friday 5: Nick Caserio’s extension is a Patriots’ coup