The New England Patriots have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL year in and year out, especially when it comes to the passing game. The two men respondible for that are, of course, future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and coordinator Josh McDaniels, who is one of the league’s more creative offensive playcallers. However, the duo also benefits from the receiving weapons it has at its disposal.
Led by the NFL’s best tight end, Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have one of the best pass-catching groups in the league. The Ringer’s Danny Kelly apparently agrees with this point of view and recently ranked New England’s skill position players as the eighth best receiving corps in the NFL. And even outside of Gronkowski, who Kelly calls “the most dominant tight end in league history,” the Patriots have plenty of bodies to potentially make an impact.
New England’s wide receivers are led by Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan and they should both play big roles as the position’s top duo this season. Even with Edelman facing a potential four-game suspension, the two veterans will be the primary players to be asked to step up and fill the voids of offseason departures Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola – the Patriots’ two most productive wide receivers last year.
The players behind Edelman and Hogan are fighting for a maximum of four spots on the 53-man roster: Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt go against offseason acquisitions Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson and Braxton Berrios. The competition features plenty of upside and untapped potential – Dorsett, Britt and Patterson are all former first-round draft picks – but only the pass catchers who get on the same page as Brady will be able to survive it.
Gronkowski, Edelman and Hogan are already in the quarterback’s circle of trusted weapons, while Mitchell, coming off a year-long stint on injured reserve, also was frequently targeted by the quarterback during his 2016 rookie campaign. The other wideouts also need to build chemistry with Brady to maximize their chances of making the team – and the same goes for New England’s tight ends.
While Gronkowski is the clear-cut top option, the depth spots behind him are up for grabs: Dwayne Allen was the number two last year, while New England added Troy Niklas and Ryan Izzo this offseason. The biggest impact, however, could be made by a player Kelly does not name in his story: Jacob Hollister. The 2017 undrafted rookie was one of the offensive standouts during offseason workouts and looked more comfortable as a pass catcher and noticeably bigger when compared to last year.
While he still has a long way to go, the 24-year old had an encouraging spring and could potentially make a more expensive player like Allen obsolete. Hollister is not the only player Kelly does not name in his analysis of the Patriots’ receiving group: he also does not list the team’s running backs (the list in general only consists of tight ends and wide receivers) despite them usually playing an important role in New England’s passing game.
Led by James White, Rex Burkhead and first-round rookie Sony Michel, the Patriots have one of the best group of receiving backs in the NFL. When analyzing pass catchers across the league, the Patriots’ three backs also should be named due to their (potential, in Michel’s case) contributions. One has to wonder if the team would have ranked higher – ahead of squads like the Green Bay Packers or New York Giants – if running backs were part of the equation.
Alas, they were not and New England finds itself behind seven other pass catching groups. Still, it is tough to argue with Kelly’s overall assessment of the group: “It’s not the deepest or most-talented pass-catching corps Brady’s ever had, but it sure isn’t bad.” At least at the moment, this sums it up well. Things, of course, could look drastically different in a few months, though.