The New England Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart is undergoing some serious changes this week. On Tuesday, the team traded a second-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons to acquire veteran Mohamed Sanu. On Wednesday, the Patriots placed Josh Gordon on injured reserve with the expectations that he will be released at a later point — effectively ending his tenure in New England after a little more than a year.
Where does all this leave the Patriots’ pass catching corps? Let’s take a look at it, while always keeping in mind that labels are not exclusive and most players capable of playing multiple positions.
Phillip Dorsett II
N’Keal Harry (IR-return)
With Josh Gordon no longer part of the equation, the Patriots’ X-receiver spot will be a two-man show moving forward: Phillip Dorsett will hold down the fort this week, with N’Keal Harry returning off his own stint on injured reserve next week. The first-round rookie, of course, missed the early portions of the season because of an ankle injury suffered during preseason. He recently returned to practice, and will be eligible to be activated in Week 9.
Given his upside as a Gordon-like perimeter receiver that can win jump balls and outmuscle cornerbacks with his physicality both down the field and at the line of scrimmage, it would not be a surprise if Harry was used in a similar role right away. While not as proven a commodity as his de facto predecessor at the position, the rookie does bring considerable talent to the table and apparently enjoys the coaching staff’s trust.
The third member of the X-receiver group, Matthew Slater, will continue to play the role he held for most of his previous 11 seasons with the Patriots: he will be a core special teamer that only gets irregular action on offense as either a decoy or the deep man on kneel-down plays.
Julian Edelman is capable of lining up all over the formation, and the Patriots use him accordingly. Trading for Sanu, however, could lead to the team giving him added snaps outside the formation in a more classical Z-receiver role. The reigning Super Bowl MVP has never been a typical slot receiver to begin with, and unlike ex-Patriots Danny Amendola and Wes Welker was used split out wide on a regular basis. If the Sanu acquisition results in such a change, it should therefore not have too big an impact on Edelman’s productivity.
Jakobi Meyers, meanwhile, was expected to get pushed down the depth chart with Sanu on board. Gordon’s exit — first to injured reserve, then off the team altogether — changes the equation, at least for now: he remains the number four wide receiver option and should continue to see some action even with Harry in the fold. So far, Meyers has made the most out of his opportunities and it seems not unlikely that he will continue to get them with the experienced Gordon now gone and the inexperienced Harry coming in.
While the Falcons used him primarily in the slot in 2019 — 296 of his 373 wide receiver snaps came inside the formation (79.4%), according to Pro Football Focus — Mohamed Sanu is one of the more versatile wideouts in the NFL. As such, the Patriots will likely move him around the formation quite a bit and could even give him snaps in the X-spot with Gordon now no longer an option to fill that role. That being said, he will likely continue to see plenty of action as a bigger slot receiver due to his skillset.
Gunner Olszewski, on the other hand, is projected to see little if any offensive playing time moving forward. The undrafted rookie has seen most of his snaps as the Patriots’ punt returner and was only used regularly on offense when injuries hit the top of the depth chart. Assuming everybody stays healthy, Olszewski’s contributions as a pass catcher will remain limited for the rest of the season.