Patriots’ scarcity at wide receiver position suddenly a surplus
The New England Patriots went from having a perilously-thin wide receivers room to suddenly having one of the strongest depth charts in the league.
At the end of last month, the New England Patriots were said to have one of the worst wide receiver groups in the entire NFL. ProFootballFocus ranked the Patriots’ group of pass-catchers as the 26th-best in the league – or more tellingly, the seventh-worst – citing the losses of Josh Gordon and Cordarrelle Patterson specifically as being significant subtractions from the roster.
Fast-forward just 20 days, and the Patriots’ receiving situation looks completely changed – as well as significantly better (at least on paper).
Josh Gordon was conditionally reinstated by Roger Goodell last Friday, and rejoined his teammates on the practice field early Monday morning. Julian Edelman also returned to practicing in pads on Monday according to NESN’s Doug Kyed, which could signal that the Super Bowl MVP’s finger is fully-healed and that he’s ready to resume normal camp activities.
More surprisingly, a pair of wideouts that had previously been designated as PUP appeared at Monday’s practice: Demaryius Thomas and Cameron Meredith (again, according to Kyed). While neither was dressed in full pads, their very appearance still represents progress in each player’s recovery from a major injury sustained last season.
Kyed also spotted Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, and N’Keal Harry back in uniform at practice. All three receivers had sustained minor injuries in either preseason action or during combined practices with the Tennessee Titans last week.
Add everything up, and the Patriots are suddenly flush with bodies at the receiver position. It’s a remarkably fast and full turnaround for a team that looked very threadbare at wideout just days ago.
Now, with less than three weeks to go until the start of the regular season, New England’s roster is finally starting to take real shape. ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported on Sunday that veteran receiver Dontrelle Inman was granted his release from the team after putting in the request himself. His departure, combined with Gordon’s reinstatement and the healthy return of several players, should help the team better evaluate its receivers room as the deadline for final roster cuts approaches.
Edelman, Gordon, and Harry are generally perceived to be the only three surefire “locks” for the Pats at wideout. It would also be nothing short of shocking to see the team release undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers after the incredible preseason he’s had. Assuming that special teams ace Matthew Slater occupies a fifth roster spot as a receiver (even though he won’t play there), New England probably is looking to keep just one more receiver (they rarely go above carrying six during the regular season).
Working under that scenario, there are currently eight players competing with each other for just one available roster spot: Demaryius Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Ryan Davis, Damoun Patterson, and Gunner Olszewski.
Davis, Patterson, and Olszewski are all long shots to make the 53-man list; any one of them (or all of them) are likely practice squad players come September. Berrios and Harris have both experienced an up-and-down training camp; neither one has probably done enough to guarantee his spot on the final roster, though both have shown flashes of promise and potential.
Realistically, that final receiver spot will probably come down to Dorsett, Meredith, and Thomas.
Thomas has the most proven track record of the three, but he also has the most mileage on his body (and he’s coming off the most worrisome prior injury). Meredith might have the most upside, but he’s also coming off a nagging injury that leaves his status for the season opener in doubt. Dorsett, of course, has the most experience playing in the Patriots’ system now, having been in New England since 2017.
Unless either Thomas or Meredith looks completely ready for game action over the course of the next two weeks, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one or both of them remain on the PUP list when the Patriots start their season against the Steelers. The smart money still has the New England wide receiver depth chart shaking out as follows (in order from top to bottom): Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, and Phillip Dorsett.