Overview: Coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance in the win over the Rams, Julian Edelman is the obvious centerpiece of the Patriots wide receiver position. Unfortunately, the 33-year-old slot target is also really the only known commodity that the coaches and Tom Brady have to work with this summer. Between Josh Gordon’s uncertain status with the NFL and the sky-high expectations for first-round pick N’Keal Harry, the passing game has both significant questions and potential.
Players (season #): Julian Edelman (11), N’Keal Harry (R), Phillip Dorsett (5), Demaryius Thomas (10), Maurice Harris (4), Dontrelle Inman (6), Braxton Berrios (2), Matthew Slater (12), Jakobi Meyers (R), Damoun Patterson (1), Ryan Davis (R), Gunner Olszewski (R)
Coaching: With Chad O’Shea joining the slew of coaching departures to become offensive coordinator for Brian Flores’ Dolphins, New England now has an extremely unique situation with special teams coach Joe Judge also overseeing the wide receiver position. Given his inexperience in the role and significant turnover at the position it wouldn’t be surprising to see Patriots director of players personnel Nick Caserio – a hands-on executive who was New England’s wide receivers back in 2007 – lend a helping hand with the wide receivers this summer and fall as Judge settles into his dual role.
Competition: Edelman and Harry are locks for roster spots, as is Matthew Slater as a special teams ace. Beyond that the battle for the other three or four jobs at the receiver position is wide open. If Gordon is reinstated from his indefinite suspension by the league, he’d seem likely to snag a role even given his inability to be relied upon over his career. Dorsett caught Brady’s only two touchdown passes last offseason but has never proven capable of being more than a complementary piece. Demaryius Thomas’ first task will be to get on the practice field as he works back from a torn Achilles suffered late last season and then must prove he has something left in the tank at age 31. Maurice Harris was the most impressive of the newcomers this spring, and youngster Braxton Berrios has shown more spark over the last year-plus than prior next-in-line slot options. Still, the most significant attention this summer will be on getting Harry up to speed as a possible starting outside target tasked with being a rare reliable, impact rookie in the Brady-led complex Patriots passing game.
Prediction: Edelman shows no signs of slowing down as he heads toward his mid-30s and will be counted on to remain a healthy, 100-catch option. Harry is going to be given every opportunity to earn a starting job, but after an at-times shaky spring has a long way to go to prove himself more than a physically-talented, inconsistent rookie. Early returns would give Berrios and Harris the inside track to join Dorsett as the reserve options on the roster, while Jakobi Meyers is a name to keep an eye on as an undrafted rookie with a chance to make some noise in preseason action at the very least. Gordon is a key wild card factor in the mix, though there is a sentiment that the NFL is softening its stance on substance abuse issues, which could help the talented veteran’s cause. Adding experienced talent at receiver is also a very real possibility, something to keep tabs on all the way up to the midseason trade deadline.