When Jakobi Meyers signed his free agent contract with the New England Patriots shortly after going undrafted, he joined a club that had some serious talent at the wide receiver position. Reigning Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman was on the roster, as were first-round draft choice N’Keal Harry and the recently re-signed Phillip Dorsett II. Furthermore, free agency additions Maurice Harris and Bruce Ellington were also part of the equation.
On top of that, the Patriots also had the suspended Josh Gordon and a rehabbing Demaryius Thomas waiting in the wings. Meyers, to say the least, was facing plenty of competition for a spot on the team or its practice squad. But despite joining a crowded wide receiver room, the rookie quickly made a name for himself as a reliable option on the second team and later in the summer when working alongside the starters.
When roster cutdown day came, Meyers kept his job while others were let go. Two months later, he is still going strong and entering Week 8 coming off the most productive two-game stretch of his career: helping fill the void created by injuries atop him on the depth chart, the 22-year old caught four passes for 54 yards against the New York Giants in Week 6, and added five receptions for 46 yards one week later versus the New York Jets.
“Jakobi’s been productive for us all year,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick about Meyers after his performance against the Jets. “He was productive in the preseason, and he’s been productive at times offensively, situationally. I mean, look, when he’s on the field, I don’t think he’s the player that other teams are saying, ‘We’ve got to double-cover this guy.’ So, some of the matchups are competitive matchups that he’s done a good job with.”
“As he has more production, then those matchups may change a little bit,” Belichick continued. “But, he’s done a good job of taking advantage of his opportunities. He’s caught the ball well, he’s shown quickness to separate and get open. He’s still got a long way to go and a lot to learn and a lot of things that he can improve on. [...] We’ll see where all that goes, but it’s certainly encouraging to see the consistent progress that he’s made.”
This process has allowed Meyers to become one of the most productive rookie receivers in the NFL through seven weeks of regular season play. His 13 catches rank him 12th among the 45 rookie wideouts that have seen in-game action so far this year, while his 167 yards rank him 10th. While some of his production is a result of circumstances like the injuries mentioned above, it cannot be denied that the rookie’s career is off to a solid start.
“Really what it comes down to is when you get your chances, that you’ve got to come through and do your job as well as you can do it and hopefully be productive,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “Jakobi’s been able to do that. He’s a young player that just tries to work hard and improve each week, we like his attitude and he’s been productive for us the last few weeks. Hopefully, he can continue to grow.”
As McDaniels pointed out, the Patriots have used Meyers primarily inside the formation during the early portions of this season: according to advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus, the N.C. State product has played 130 offensive snaps from the slot, as opposed to 60 split out wide. According to his offensive coordinator, he has fared well despite playing a challenging role within one of the NFL’s most complex offenses.
“Usually when you play in there, there’s a few more multiples that you’ve got to deal with and there’s different coverage aspects, there might be linebackers covering you, there might be different types of zone coverages that you need to be aware of,” said McDaniels. “There’s an inherent instinctiveness that you need to have and make yourself available to the quarterback and not run through windows in zone, and understand the difference between man and zone.”
“He’s learning. He does do a good job of that,” continued McDaniels. “He has played in there before. He played in there a lot in college. The other thing you have to have to play in there is you have to have courage because again, when you catch the ball in there, you’re not going to be too far away from one or two other bodies. He made a tough catch on third down in there [against the Jets], and converted a couple big ones for us.”
Meyers certainly has earned his spot on the team so far, but his role could be subject to change in the future with the Patriots sending a second-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons to acquire Mohamed Sanu. Like the youngster, the veteran wide receiver has seen most of his action with the Falcons inside the formation and it is therefore no stretch of the imagination to see McDaniels using him in a similar way in New England.
Ultimately, however, the rookie needs to do what he has done ever since joining the Patriots: continue working on his craft and to improve his chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady, who also praised Meyers after Monday night’s game in New York for taking advantage of the opportunities he has received. When listening to Josh McDaniels talk about the rookie, though, there is little doubt that he will do just that.
“He’s earned opportunities, and when he’s had the opportunity to make some plays, he’s produced. So, Jakobi deserves the credit for that,” said the assistant coach during a conference call earlier this week. “He continues to work hard in practice, continues to rep. He learns through doing things right, and then if we make mistakes, we try to correct those and learn from those, as well, whether that be in practice or the games.”