Over the last 10 seasons, the New England Patriots have only had three 1,000-yard wide receivers. Can they add a fourth to that list in 2019?
The New England Patriots haven’t had the best of luck when it comes to wide receivers. In fact, the argument could be made that the team is far better at finding talent for the position through free agency rather than the draft.
Yes, there have been times when the Pats land their guy from the draft, like in the cases of Deion Branch, David Givens, Julian Edelman, and Malcolm Mitchell. All of those players were great draft picks for the Patriots and contributed in big ways during their time here in New England (admittedly, Mitchell in far less time than the others).
Still, the vast majority of the Pats’ most prolific wideouts came from outside sources via trade or free agency. Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Josh Gordon, Danny Amendola… they all started elsewhere before arriving in New England.
It almost seems impossible that Tom Brady, the GOAT, doesn’t regularly have a 1,000-yard wide receiver every season. There’s no question that Brady can throw touchdowns to just about anyone. And yet, over the last 10 seasons, the New England Patriots have only had three 1,000-yard wide receivers:
’09: Randy Moss– 1,264 yards
’13: Julian Edelman- 1,056 yards
’16: Julian Edelman- 1,106 yards
’17: Brandin Cooks– 1,082 yards
Julian Edelman is the longest-tenured wide receiver for the Patriots, and obviously the only player who appears twice on that short list. Playing together for a decade now, it’s readily apparent that “Jules” and Brady are completely in sync with each other.
If anyone from this current wide receiver group is going to record 1,000 yards, Edelman probably has the strongest chance of doing so. Assuming he can grab at least 90 passes this season, he will break through the 1,000-yard plateau for the third time in his career.
Josh Gordon stepped into New England last season after being traded from the Cleveland Browns. The spectacularly-talented wide receiver connected pretty early on with Brady. In 11 games, Gordon caught 59% of his targets for 40 receptions and three touchdowns.
Gordon has almost as strong of an opportunity to reach 1,000 yards as Edelman; he also has the benefit of being the Pats’ most obvious downfield threat, which allows him to rack up chunk plays faster than Edelman, who works primarily underneath on crossing routes. If Gordon can reel in at least 60 passes, he’ll probably reach the 1,000-yard feat. The argument could be made that if he had played the rest of last season instead of stepping away and then getting suspended, he probably would have eclipsed the mark in 2018, too.
Demaryius Thomas had quite a crazy offseason. Coming off an Achilles tear, Thomas was released by the Houston Texans last February. Not knowing what type of player he would be after the injury, the Patriots decided to sign him nonetheless, and then briefly cut him after the preseason, only to bring him back once again after putting N’Keal Harry on IR.
In the final game of the preseason – Thomas’ first real glimpse of action since last December – the big-bodied wideout recorded an impressive final stat line of seven receptions for 87 yards and two scores. It’s still early-on, but he appears to be looking at one of the most dreaded injuries for an athlete through the rear-view mirror now, leaving it behind him.
In his career, Thomas has five 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. Typically, he has shown that he needs to catch at least 90 passes to reach 1,000 yards in a season; that number might be just a bit too high a mark for him to hit this season with all the other options on the New England receiving roster.
Phillip Dorsett came to New England with a chip on his shoulder. So far, the former Colts first-round pick has seized his opportunities while being a Patriot. Dorsett earned the trust of Brady after grabbing a 29-yard touchdown pass during the AFC Championship Game last season, and then followed that up with an impressive two-touchdown performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first game of this new season.
While Dorsett has shown to be both durable and reliable for the reigning Super Bowl champs, he’s not very likely to be the player who will surpass 1,000 yards on the season. He usually shines in short game situations and has great ability to create separation from a defender; he also has great hands, as we’ve seen him catch passes in traffic fairly regularly throughout his career. He will be a great security blanket for Brady, and could reel in about 45 passes for 400-500 yards or so, but that’s about as high of a ceiling as he has on this loaded offense.
Jakobi Meyers is an undrafted rookie free agent who the team brought in as another project to play with this offseason. Not knowing what he was capable of, the unheralded Meyers actually made a huge impact in the preseason en route to carving his way onto the Patriots 53-man roster. Meyers could find himself earning more playing time, especially since N’Keal Harry is now on the IR to start the season. Still, it’s difficult to imagine him getting anywhere near the 1,000-yard threshold as a rookie.
Gunner Olszewski is another undrafted rookie free agent whose dreams came true and who now is a New England Patriot. Olszewski is a former cornerback and Defensive Player of the Year while playing at Division II Bemidji State. The receiver is more useful for this Pats squad as a specialist, where might have a bright future in the return game. From what we saw in preseason action, we learned that he has a great chance to become the next Julian Edelman type of player, although he probably won’t see many snaps at receiver this season.
As mentioned earlier, N’Keal Harry will start the season on IR. There was so much hype surrounding him as the Patriots moved through their offseason activities this summer. The team rarely targets a wide receiver in the early stages of the draft, so it’s evident that Bill Belichick and the Pats think highly of the Arizona State product.
Harry going on injured reserve opens up opportunities for guys like Jakobi Meyers and Demaryius Thomas. If he’d been healthy, he may have had a chance to crack the 1,000-yard milestone as a rookie, but now it’s virtually impossible, since he won’t be eligible to return until the mid-point of the season at the earliest.
Of course, the wild card in all of the Patriots’ plans at receiver now is Antonio Brown. In his nine-year NFL career, Brown has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving seven times. It’s also worth mentioning that when Brown plays at least 14 games of the season, he’s never finished with fewer than 1,100 yards through the air.
As of now, it appears that Brown will have the opportunity to play 15 games with the Patriots, the team he officially signed with on Monday after getting released by the Oakland Raiders on the opening weekend of the 2019 season. Though he joins a crowded receiver depth chart, he also now has the best quarterback of his career throwing him the ball.
If ever there was a year where the Patriots would have another 1,000-yard receiver, it might be this one. While there are many good candidates, the three favorites for the honor are Edelman, Gordon, and Brown. Perhaps the only factors stopping any one of them from reaching that threshold is one another, as they will probably eat into each other’s production with Brady spreading the ball around.