The New England Patriots will not have quarterback Tom Brady for the first four weeks of the season, but back-up Jimmy Garoppolo will be helped by the best supporting talent in the entire league.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) continued their summer ranking series by naming the Patriots the best receiving corps in the entire league.
“The Patriots may lack that true No. 1 wide receiver, but they don’t need one when they have Rob Gronkowski at tight end,” PFF analyst Gordon McGuinness writes. “One of the most-dominant players in the NFL, Gronkowski earned the highest receiving grade—and was tied for the highest run-blocking grade—among players at his position last season.
“At wide receiver, Julian Edelman earned the 15th-highest overall grade at the position in 2015, averaging 2.07 yards per route run from the slot, the sixth-best mark in the league. Keep an eye on rookie Malcolm Mitchell at wide receiver and Martellus Bennett (Bears) at tight end in 2016; Mitchell graded well in his final season at Georgia after injury threatened to ruin his career, while Bennett earned the 21st-highest overall grade among tight ends in 2015.”
Gronkowski, Edelman, Mitchell, and Bennett are joined by the likes of Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, and Clay Harbor to form one of the most versatile groups of receivers in the league.
Edelman spends half of his time in the slot and half of his time on the sideline, which is similar to Hogan’s usage with the Bills last season. Mitchell looks to be more of an outside receiver, while Amendola is a pure slot player. These receivers let the Patriots offense attack whatever coverage is on the other side of the field.
But it’s the tight ends that give the Patriots the top billing.
“Gronkowski has revolutionized the expectations for an elite tight end,” PFF analyst John Breitenbach writes. “He is the most complete player we’ve seen at the position in recent seasons. Gronk’s 95.9 receiving grade [out of 100] easily outstripped the competition; on just 72 catches, he gained 1,176 yards, averaging a league-leading 16.3 yards per catch. Nearly half of his yardage came after the catch; his 7.6 YAC average was fourth at the position. Those numbers are partly explained by Gronkowski’s talent in the open field—he broke a tackle once every 6.5 receptions. The Patriots’ top TE remains one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the game.”
Gronkowski can line-up anywhere as a receiver or blocker and Bennett is one of just a handful of tight ends that can boast a similar flexibility (albeit at a lower level of ability). Harbor looks to help out at fullback, but he can flex all over the formation like Aaron Hernandez did in 2011.
I don’t think anyone would mistake the Patriots wide receivers for being the best in the league. Edelman is a bona fide #1 receiver, but there are plenty of question marks in the depth chart- and with the status Edelman’s own foot injury. But the position offers plenty of hope for the future.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick saw a lot that he liked about Chris Hogan when Hogan was featured in the Bills offense. At just 27 years of age, Hogan has a bright future and should be better fit for the Patriots offense. Hogan is a tremendous athlete at 6’1, 220 lbs, with a 4.50 40 yard dash and a 6.75 three cone. For context, his athleticism best compares to Dwayne Bowe, who had a pretty good career in Kansas City.
The longer Hogan remains with the Patriots, the more comfortable he will become with the system and I believe he could develop into a more reliable and more athletic version of Brandon LaFell- which is all you can ask for a possible #3 or #4 target in the offense.
The same applies to rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who will have a steep battle for playing time, but could take on a much larger role in 2017. Don’t take my word for it.
Wide receiver evaluator Matt Harmon broke down Mitchell prior to the draft and these excerpts have to make Patriots fans excited.
“Georgia primarily wanted Mitchell to be a chain-moving intermediate threat, and that’s where he functions best as a receiver,” Harmon wrote. “50.7 percent of the routes he ran in his Reception Perception sample were slant or curl patterns. Talk about a skewed chart. The only other route he ran at a rate above the class average was the comeback.
“Mitchell’s college usage represents a player that will fit well in a timing-based offense that makes their living off a quick passing game...One of the most important aspects to observe when scouting college receivers is how they function in tight coverage. Mitchell is quite comfortable in that regard, and looks to win the fight with the defender all the way down the field. Demonstrating a finishing touch, Mitchell’s 66.7 percent contested catch conversion rate checks in above the class average...
“At his peak, Mitchell is one of the most polished, decisive and sharp route runners in this year’s draft class...Demonstrating good timing, mixed in with excellent explosion, Mitchell can leave a defender completely in his dust when he deceives a corner. Another area that exemplifies this is his above average 80 percent SRVC on comebacks. Mitchell knows how to sell the vertical pattern before cleaning breaking back to the cornerback.”
There’s a lot more where this came from and I highly recommend you check it out. The main takeaway is that Mitchell was great in a timing offense and was able to generate plenty of separation- and was able to catch the ball in tight coverage.
The future is bright at receiver with Hogan and Mitchell, while the present is also in good hands with Gronkowski and Edelman.