In the week following their alleged interest in free agent Odell Beckham Jr. was reported as public knowledge, another speculation created more conversation about a big name that could potentially join the Patriots. That talk came with the courtesy of Deion Branch, who previously suggested New England Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman might have “itching” to return if Pats were to lure him out of retirement.
Beckham is now a Ram and there is no tendency for Edelman to plan a comeback in the late season. But the insinuation underlying both cases is consistent with the belief that the Patriots could use an upgrade in their receiving corps – a belief that is gradually being disproved on a weekly basis.
Thursday night in Atlanta, three days after Beckham’s indefinite debut with Los Angeles, the Patriots’ receivers were a common key in their 25-0 defeat to the Falcons. The quartet of Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and N’Keal Harry each made several catches with 15 grips on 17 goals, a touchdown and 135 yards between them.
Is that eye-catching numbers? No. But remember, this is a Patriots offense based on their running game, love to throw themselves in the back when they leak out of the backfield, and spent big bucks on the two best tight-ends in the free agent market lately. spring.
On paper, the Patriots’ group of receivers is the offensive afterthought, yet their results against the Falcons on Thursday quickly came on the heels of accumulated 11 catches, 194 yards and two goals against the Browns on Sunday. Suddenly, they’re ready to put up numbers that haven’t been seen in Foxborough since the talk that went into Thanksgiving week was centered around whether the locals could complete their undefeated season.
The (mostly) magical tour de force in 2007 was the last time the Patriots finished with three receivers, each on a total of at least 40 catches and 500 receiving yards. Others (2013, 2015 and 2018) have come close, but have not quite hit that level of productive depth.
These Patriots have the advantage of an extra game, but in connection with these projections it has been eliminated. Based on a schedule of 16 games, Meyers would be at a pace of 79 catches and 759 yards. Bourne would be on his way to 54 catches and 817 yards. Agholor, meanwhile, would have room for 42 grips and 576 yards through the air.
The names in that trio are not exactly Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donta Stallworth – the last trio of recipients, each going for more than 40 and 500 in a season. And the ball dominance of guys like Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman plus the number of passes thrown to backs like James White and Shane Vereen certainly affected the feed trough that Pats receivers have eaten in the last decade or so.
But it’s also not as if the current Pats receivers are picking up numbers because they are highly featured. The reasons why the Pats score 27.6 points per game. match – more than Chiefs, mind you – starts with their reliance on Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and the ground game. In the red zone, and with increasing frequency, Hunter Henry is a primary target.
Yet these recipients do the work they are asked to do, leaving little to be desired – apart from a few things that have historically not been characteristic of Josh McDaniels’ offensive approach and that do not exactly fit into club personality or skill set.
In that respect, this group of receivers is in many ways a good representative of their position coach, the Patriots’ legend Troy Brown. He only had a 1,000-yard season, and only three years where he snatched more than 43 balls, but he got the red jacket that was bestowed on the Patriots Hall of Famers because he was consistently reliable, knew how to open, delivered when it mattered, and also had the ability to explode into great plays.
It has also come to collectively define his mentees over the months since he expressed his faith in them during the first days of training camp.
“I can not say enough about all the guys I have in my group this year. It’s a great room; amazing people,” Brown said back in August. “I love this room, guys.”
Meyers has been loved in New England ever since he played for the team as an exhausted rookie. Having emerged as the team’s leading receiver last year, he has confirmed that rank by continuing his growth this year. With that extra play, he’s on his way to the top 80 receptions and 800 yards, and perhaps even more impressive is the factor he’s been on third down.
He has proven to be the closest Mac Jones has on a safety blanket, which is why it is Meyers where the quarterback looks when he faces third down with an intermediate distance to the sticks.
There is a confidence in the receiver, which was well exemplified in the middle of the third quarter against the Falcons. On the third-and-5, old friend Duron Harmon burst through the middle on a blitz from his safety point and came unblocked to Jones. The quarterback withdrew to buy some time, but just before Harmon reached him, Jones threw a pass to his left. As the ball flowed out of the quarterback’s hand, Meyers was just about to take his break toward the outside.
Jones relied not only on Meyers being there, but also on running the route with just enough depth to make the first down marker and, oh yes, getting a fingertip just before the ball hit the ground. Meyers performed it successfully, as he often does, and the drive continued. It was the 14th time this season that Meyers picked up a first down with a third-down catch, which came into Sunday’s action draw with Chargers ’Pro Bowler Keenan Allen as the fifth-largest in the NFL. Just behind him on the rankings were people like Stefon Diggs, Travis Kelce and Cooper Kupp.
Agholor has been another chain mover, with 20 of his 29 catches accounting for first downs this season. In Atlanta, he led the way with five catches, scoring his third touchdown of the season as he broke free in a broken cover and turned on the afterburners on his way to paydirt.
That speed is what makes Agholor the logical choice to be the Pats’ biggest threat to big games, but so far that distinction has gone to the other guy New England signed on to in his early free-agent frenzy, and it’s Bourne. The former 49er is running more than 800 receiving yards, and a large portion of his winnings come when the ball is in his hands. Bourne averages 6.9 yards after the catch, which ranks in the top 20 of the entire league, and only after five other receivers. He is in the same range as Buc’s ‘Chris Godwin and Bengals’ JaMarr Chase, with well-known playmakers such as Davante Adams (4.7 yards) and Tyreek Hill (4.0 yards) significantly behind him.
Adding to Bourne’s impressive and effective numbers is that he has captured 78.7 percent of the passes thrown over him. A few Arizona Cardinals – Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore – are the only receivers to have made at least 20 receptions this season and have a higher catch rate. Factor in the blinks he has shown in collecting 78 yards on six rushing attempts, as well, and Bourne has become the playmaker that the Pats thought they were about to sign on Jonnu Smith.
Even Harry is starting to find his role. He has only added eight catches and 117 yards to the group totals, but with 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he has been fantastic as a blocker, especially just off the line. In situations on the goal line, he has dominated his defensive player, almost like an extra line player, and he has used that to earn more opportunities all over the field. He has played at least a third of New England’s snaps in each of the last six games and participated in 61 out of 133 possible games (46 percent) over the five-day stretch against the Browns and Falcons. It was more action than Bourne saw over the two tilts.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels acknowledged Harry’s contribution this week, saying development and growth will create opportunities for him to contribute in other ways in the future.
“I think all of our guys are making a big effort,” McDaniels said. “We ask a lot of our recipients in general in that regard, and they have all shown that they are tough enough and willing to help the team in any way they can.”
They have helped win five in a row. They have helped the young quarterback come along. And they have helped everyone to see that this Patriots-receiving corps does not have to bring in a big name to be a factor in the team’s return to battle.
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