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Phillip Dorsett making most of limited sample size in Patriots’ passing game

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Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett has caught each of the last nine passes thrown his direction.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Efficient wouldn’t be the word used to describe Phillip Dorsett’s first season with the New England Patriots.

The wideout, traded from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for quarterback Jacoby Brissett at the 53-man roster deadline, went on to catch 12 passes in 377 offensive snaps.

And that wideout went, at one point, a drought of four games without catching one.

But efficient is what Dorsett has become this season. Even if the former first-round pick’s role isn’t the same one he assumed prior to the acquisition of Josh Gordon and the activation of Julian Edelman. Even if the $9.387 million fifth-year option in his rookie contract was declined without any objection in May, and a restructure to lower his roster bonus followed shortly thereafter.

Dorsett proceeded to match his reception tally from a year ago by Sept. 16 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’d tie his career-high in touchdowns by Sept. 30 against the Miami Dolphins. He’d surpass his receiving mark from 2017 by Oct. 21 against the Chicago Bears.

It will soon be the most productive campaign for Dorsett since the Miami Hurricanes product entered the league at No. 29 overall in 2015. Soon could become sooner.

Dorsett has at least provided such food for thought entering the New England’s bye week.

He’s done more with less thus far.

Fellow Patriots wideout Chris Hogan, sitting third on the depth chart, went catchless for the second time in as many weeks in Sunday’s 34-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Meanwhile, Dorsett, sitting fourth, caught passes from both Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer while playing 39 fewer snaps.

The latter now stands with 25 receptions for 246 yards and two touchdowns on the campaign.

Though when asked Monday whether Dorsett stands with an opportunity for expanded looks moving forward, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spread the ball around.

“We have confidence in all our receivers,” Belichick said on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni & Fauria. “Really all five guys have played and they’ve all been productive, in maybe different ways with C.P. [Cordarrelle Patterson]. But Dorsett, Hogan, Edelman and Gordon, we’ve gotten production from all those guys. I’m sure they’ll have some games where they get more targets, and then some where they get less. So, we’ll see how it goes week to week.”

Dorsett has been seen lining up with an average of 7.4 yards of defensive cushion this season, most among all NFL wide receivers and tight ends with a minimum of 25 targets, according to Next Gen Stats.

He has been targeted an average of 12.3 yards down the field, too, which sits behind only Gordon and tight end Rob Gronkowski in New England’s ranks.

And he has caught 71.43 percent of the passes sent his direction, which ties with Edelman for the team lead.

But Dorsett has gained just 81 yards over the course of the Patriots’ last six games. The 25-year-old with 4.3 speed has gotten just nine throws sent his direction over that span.

The thing is, he’s caught all nine.

Dorsett hasn’t been the intended receiver on an incompletion since Dolphins rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted Brady deep over the middle some two flips of the calendar ago. He’s hung on for catches of four, five, six, eight, 11, 16 and 17 yards since then, along with a pair of seven-yarders.

Perhaps the most critical of those gains came a week ago in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers, on third-and-7 in a 17-all game, when Dorsett took outside leverage on a curl down the right sideline and fielded the ball off his shoetops to move the chains on what’d be the go-ahead scoring drive.

Dorsett would come back to the ball on a similar play in the loss to Tennessee, falling to the grass shortly before halftime at Nissan Stadium only to regather himself and collect 11 yards when the Patriots needed 10.

He was on the field for 27 snaps combined between those two contests. He was on for just 16 snaps combined during New England’s three contests prior.

There is a case to be made there. The Patriots, on recess until a Nov. 25 matchup with the New York Jets, have time to deliberate it.