The Patriots continue to waste Kendrick Bourne’s talent

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots lines up against Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots lines up against Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

One of the most discussed topics of this Patriots season has surrounded the under-usage of one of their best wide receivers on game day.

In his first season with New England last year, Kendrick Bourne had the most productive season of his career. In the 17 games played, he totaled 55 receptions for 800 yards and five touchdowns, ranking him behind only Jakobi Meyers on the year. Not only was he a true downfield threat, but he was also a versatile player that Mac Jones could use out of the backfield. On top of his receiving stats, Bourne tallied 12 carries for 125 yards, averaging 10.4 yards per attempt.

Coming into his second season with the team, it was believed Bourne would continue sitting atop the receiving chart and possibly dethrone Meyers as the WR1. The chemistry between first-year quarterback and first-year Patriot last year was evident, making both of their performances that much more special.

But things began to change throughout the preseason between Bourne and the team. The reason behind the drastic change is still unclear. However, most indications point in the direction of newly named, but not officially titled offensive coordinator, Matt Patricia.

Several reports were released leading up to the regular season regarding the tension between Patricia and Bourne. It was originally believed that because the receiver was late or didn’t show up to a preseason meeting, Patricia took issue with Bourne. Then he participated in a brawl between the Patriots and Panthers players during their joint preseason practices and was booted from the remainder of practice.

If those are not accurate, there are other potential reasons to consider. Referring back to a previous article entitled Are the Patriots and Kendrick Bourne at a standstill? from September 28th, there are a few explanations that have led to Bourne’s lack of involvement thus far.

  1. Josh McDaniels and Kendrick Bourne reportedly clicked right away. Coming from a Shanahan offense to the Patriots, Bourne thrived in what McDaniels would draw up. Now that the former offensive coordinator is gone, and Bourne has allegedly taken issue with the offense’s new direction, he may just not be thriving with the changes that are being set forth.
  2. The reported conflict with Matt Patricia seems like a possibility as well. It is widely known that Patricia may be behind the mysterious benching of Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl 52. Although the secret behind why the cornerback was not available to play is still unclear, many of the rumors since then have involved an issue between him and Patricia as the explanation.
  3. With a variety of receivers on the team, Bourne is competing for time on the field. Despite the assumption, he’s seeing less time because of Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s elevation to the 53-man roster, Bourne is likely competing more with Nelson Agholor. Appearing more like a tight end and possessing the skills of one as well, Humphrey is used on the offense more for blocking purposes than a true receiver, hence the more snap counts. Agholor and Bourne are similar in style of play and build, making it more likely the two are competing for a coveted spot atop the receiving depth chart.

Regardless of what the hidden reason may be, the impact that Bourne makes when he’s on the field is something that should be putting him on the field more. And now a new stat from ESPN proves that to be the case in statistical form, too.

What is the new stat created by ESPN?

In recent weeks, ESPN has introduced a new statistic specifically for wide receivers in the NFL. Their new Receiver Tracking Metrics (or RTMs)  join the list of other positions tracked by ESPN beginning in 2018.

There are currently four metrics used to evaluate the performance of a receiver; Open Score, Catch Score, YAC Score, and a combination of all. A scale of 0-99 is used to provide a score for the player’s production in a game and  ESPN claims the new stat is ” not solely to rank receivers from best to worst; the goal is to describe and explain how a receiver is — or isn’t — able to produce yards.”

Since this new metric was introduced, Bourne was shown to lead all wide receivers and tight ends in the league in Catch Score since the start of the 2021 season. He scored a 91 overall, topping second-place’s Tyler Lockett with a score of 86.

In defining what Catch Score is, Brian Burke of ESPN wrote

"“The assessment to catch and contest works in a similar way to openness. Given the array of all 22 players’ positions, directions, and speeds, the model estimates the probability of a completion. If a completion occurs, the receiver is credited with the marginal difference.For example, if the tracking data indicates a pass will be completed 75% of the time and the receiver actually catches the pass, he is credited with plus-0.25. If he does not catch the pass, he is debited at minus-0.75.”"

After the initial introduction of RTMs, Seth Walder of ESPN broke down how Bourne earned his high score and what exactly it means regarding his production.

"You can see some of the evidence of Bourne’s Catch Score prowess in his box score stats. Since the 2021 season, he has caught 79% of his targets. While his 9.2 air yards per target is not exceptionally deep, it’s slightly longer than stars such as Kupp or Keenan Allen (Chargers), and yet Bourne has a higher catch rate than either."

Although the stat is new and Bourne doesn’t have a lengthy number of games with the Patriots to consider, ranking above some of the best receivers in the league is indicative of how impactful of a player he can be for the Patriots. His score adds another layer of confusion in trying to determine why he is not being involved more with the offense, especially as they continue to struggle during the regular season.

During a recent appearance on the Next Pats Podcast hosted by Phil Perry and Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston, Walder voiced his confusion as well, particularly after seeing the new RTM stats.

"“One of the most notable numbers that came out of here was how high Kendrick Bourne’s Catch Score was last year. If he’s getting on the field more going forward, I would have to think that improves their chances of keeping that Catch Score high. Like, if it is that situation where not getting open at a great rate, and so they have to win those 50/50 balls, I would think he would be a guy that you would want to put on the field to help those chances.”"

Now with statistical proof showing Bourne should be an integral part of the Patriots’ offense, those in and around New England are likely to demand an increase of his snaps even more they had been previously.

Offensively, the team is still not where they need to be in order to compete with the rest of the NFL. Their struggles in the red zone, making them one of the lowest scoring offenses as they average only 18 points per game, will make it much more difficult to win this year. Bourne has proven himself to be a valuable asset in the passing game, but also when used out of the backfield, making him an x-factor type player that not many teams have.

If Patricia and Bill Belichick choose to not make the changes needed for Bourne to see more playing time, they’re clearly wasting his talent by keeping him on the bench. There’s a reason Belichick decided to sign him in free agency and the receiver earned every penny in his first year. If there are still unsettled issues between him and Patricia, they need to be resolved as soon as possible, particularly with their season very much on the line over the next few weeks.

Plus, we can’t forget that even Patriots’ owner, Robert Kraft had expressed his displeasure with Bourne’s benching stemming back to the first game of the season. It’s difficult to imagine that Kraft is happier since then as Bourne continues to not be utilized week-to-week.

As the Patriots head into week five against the Detriot Lions with Bailey Zappe under center, the talent Bourne possesses and what he has shown to be capable of when given the ball could be exactly the boost this offense needs. Belichick may not care about stats, and maybe he doesn’t even know about this new metric. But it’s clearer than ever that Kendrick Bourne deserves to be a bigger piece of the offense going forward.