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Evaluating the state of the Patriots’ wide receiver corps

New England’s wide receiver position is in a state of turnover.

NFL: New England Patriots-OTA Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams, the team has seen the composition of its wide receiver corps change dramatically. Veteran wideout Chris Hogan left to sign a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers, and Cordarrelle Patterson inked a two-year contract with the Chicago Bears.

That leaves Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and Matthew Slater as the only holdovers at the wide receiver position from last year’s Super Bowl-winning team. And with Slater strictly playing on special teams, that leaves a lot of opportunity for new faces to emerge at the position this summer as the Patriots re-tool their offense.

With so many new faces at the position heading into this season, including first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry, here’s a look at each player’s chance of making it onto the initial 53-man roster to start the regular season.

*Note: For the purposes of this article, Matthew Slater will be treated as a special teams-only player, not a wide receiver.

Julian Edelman

Age: 33

Contract Status: 2 years, $15,500,000

No point in wasting much time on this one. After signing a two-year extension this offseason, and getting a well-deserved pay raise, Julian Edelman will be back as the team’s #1 wide receiver, and Tom Brady’s personal security blanket.

Somewhat surprisingly, Edelman looked no worse for the wear last season, coming off his torn ACL injury. The elder statesman of the Pats’ receiving corps will be counted on again to keep the offense chugging along, and there will be more pressure to produce with Rob Gronkowski retiring. Can a 33-year-old receiver who relies on his quickness and agility be counted on to be the primary receiving option for this New England offense? We’re going to find out, because Brady and the offense will need Edelman to replicate last season’s production if they are going to get back to the Super Bowl for the fourth year in a row.

Verdict: Roster Lock

Phillip Dorsett

Age: 26

Contract Status: 1 year, $2,600,000

After testing the free agent market, Dorsett returns to the Pats on a modest one year deal, with the opportunity to grab a more prominent role in the offense this year. Dorsett didn’t see the field consistently last season, but produced when his number was called, with no better example than the 29-yard touchdown reception he had in the AFC Championship Game.

With more snaps and a greater role, Dorsett’s production will likely increase. But Maurice Harris’ strong summer showing so far will prevent Dorsett from getting comfortable with his spot on the roster. Nevertheless, Dorsett figures to be in the Patriots’ 2019-2020 plans, and gets the edge right now due to his experience in the system already.

Verdict: Likely

N’Keal Harry

Age: 21

Contract Status: 4 years, $10,098,346

Tom Brady’s new shiny toy has been thrown to the wolves in minicamp and OTAs so far, drawing Stephon Gilmore in coverage for a majority of his practice reps. While that is perhaps a sign of how highly the coaching staff thinks of him, to have him go up against arguably the top cornerback in the NFL right away, it’s also a sign that Harry has a ways to go to reach his potential, as by all accounts, Gilmore won that matchup decidely in OTAs.

Harry gives New England a presence on the outside that they have been lacking in recent years at the receiver position, and will be counted on to replace some of Gronkowski’s production in the offense, especially as a big-bodied target in the red zone. It appears he’s already on his way to gaining a spot in Brady’s circle of trust, as Brady posted photos of a private workout with Harry and Edelman last month.

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Verdict: Roster Lock

Maurice Harris

Age: 26

Contract Status: 1 year, $1,000,000

Harris has been one of the standout performers for the Patriots during the OTAs, and has a fighting chance of making the 53-man roster, if he can stay healthy. Staying on the field has been the former Redskin’s biggest issue so far, but if he can stay healthy and continue to keep up his strong performance from OTAs, Harris could carve out a role on this team as a player who can operate inside and outside the hashmarks. That versatility would be a nice boost for the offense.

Harris has a base salary of $720,000 and a salary camp number of $962,500 with no dead cap money if he is released. It’s low-risk, high-reward signings like these that keep the Patriots at the top of the league year in and year out. If Harris can have a Brandon Lafell-type year for the Patriots, as noted by our own Rich Hill, the Patriots offense will be even more dangerous this year.

Verdict: Likely

Dontrelle Inman

Age: 30

Contract Status: 1 year, $1,500,000

Like Harris, Inman is another opportunistic signing with hopes that he can outperform his contract. The former Indianapolis Colt had four other offers on the table, per the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, but chose to join the Patriots’ crowded receiving corps.

Inman started 4 games for the Colts last year, finishing the year with 28 catches for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns. From Week 7 to the end of the Colts’ season, Inman had the highest rating when targeted (133.0) and second highest reception percentage of any wide receiver with at least 46 targets.

While Inman did not seem to stand out in the early portion of the New England offseason schedule, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a roster battle emerge between Inman and Demaryius Thomas for a spot on the roster, as both players project to the same role in the Patriots offense and have similar physical profiles. Inman has a lower cap hit than Thomas ($1,368,750 compared to $2,906,000) and more dead money, and with Thomas still rehabbing his torn Achilles, Inman has the upper hand currently between the two. Still, a roster spot is uncertain at this stage, and he needs to do more to earn it.

Verdict: On the bubble

Demaryius Thomas

Age: 31

Contract Status: 1 year, $2,906,000

Thomas has yet to take the practice field in uniform as a Patriot due to the torn Achilles injury he is still rehabbing. Thomas suffered the season-ending injury after being traded to the Houston Texans, and considering his age (31) and injury history (he tore his right Achilles tendon in 2011), it’s fair to wonder how effective he can be at this point in his career.

Thomas first has to get back onto the field and show he can regain the form that he had with the Denver Broncos, before a discussion about him making the roster can be had. But if at the end of training camp, the decision is between, say, Thomas and Inman, New England could give itself some time by placing Thomas on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the season. This would allow them to keep Inman, or one of the younger receivers, like Braxton Berrios or Jakobi Meyers, on the roster for the first eight weeks of the season while Thomas is on the PUP list, and would also give the Pats some depth at the receiver position in case of injury.

It appears Thomas is on the fast track in his recovery though, which may complicate any potential plans to place him on the PUP. It took Thomas just 6 months to recover from his first torn Achilles in 2011, and according to James Palmer of the NFL Network, Thomas is expected to be “available sooner than most believe he will be,” this time around as well.

Verdict: On the bubble

Braxton Berrios

Age: 23

Contract Status: 3 years, $1,905,000

A sixth-round pick from last year’s draft, Berrios was injured in training camp last year and placed on Injured Reserve, denying him the opportunity to audition as the next great Patriots slot receiver. Now, Berrios is back, and at full health, with the same opportunity staring him right in the face. Berrios would fit in well as a backup slot receiver with the potential to return punts, as New England has no clear option right now for a punt returner, outside of Julian Edelman.

Like Edelman, Berrios seemed to have a knack for making the big play in big games, like in his last game against Miami’s rival, Florida State, when he caught eight passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots offense works well with two slot receivers on the field, as evidenced by Danny Amendola’s success on the field with Edelman, and Berrios could stand to play a similar role, if he can earn Brady’s trust, which is a huge question mark at this stage.

Verdict: On the bubble

Damoun Patterson

Age: 24

Contract Status: 1 year, $495,000

Patterson was signed to the New England practice squad in November of last year, and remained on the practice squad for the remainder of the season. At this stage, Patterson is depth at the position, and his ceiling with the Patriots is likely the practice squad.

Verdict: Cut candidate

Jakobi Meyers

Age: 22

Contract Status: 3 years, $1,765,000

Meyers is one of the more intriguing undrafted free agents out there this year. From NC State, Meyers checks in at 6’1”, 205 lb., and has the ability to play inside and out. His greatest asset is his catch radius and catching ability. Meyers has decent lateral agility but isn’t going to break anyone’s ankles. He often tries to juke his defender out of his shoes, but isn’t always successful. He needs to learn to be more of a north-south player, and less of an east-west one. The good news is, he has the physical traits to do that.

What made Meyers go undrafted? Primarily, his separation ability. He makes up for that with his impressive catch radius, but Meyers’ biggest struggle in the pros will be getting open, especially against press-man coverage. How he fares in that department will likely decide if he stays or goes. Perhaps the Patriots try to sneak him through waivers to the practice squad so he can get some more seasoning.

Verdict: Practice squad candidate

Ryan Davis

Age: 22

Contract Status: 3 years, $1,765,000

Davis joins Jarrett Stidham as a rookie from Auburn University. Davis has an impressive resume from his time at Auburn, holding the Auburn all-time record for receptions with 178 catches, and ranking 14th in yardage with 1,555 yards. However, he caught just one touchdown pass in 2018.

Davis is undersized, at 5’9”, 185 lb., and will face stiff competition from the other young pass catchers like Berrios and Meyers. At this stage, it’s hard to see Davis making it past final cuts.

Verdict: Cut candidate

Gunner Olszewski

Age: 22

Contract Status: 3 years, $1,755,000

Olszewski was signed as a UDFA a month ago out of Bemidji State, where he was a defensive back and punt returner. The six-foot, 170-lb. Olszewski will now try to make an NFL roster as a wide receiver. He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at his pro day, as well as a 6.88 three-cone drill. If Olszewski is going to latch on, it will need to be as a special teams player first.

Verdict: Cut candidate