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Taking a closer look at the Patriots’ position battle at wide receiver

Who survives the cutdown and makes the active roster?

New England Patriots v Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Last week, the Patriots trotted out a receiving corps where Braxton Berrios and Jakobi Meyers were the main targets. Things have changed greatly since then. Granted, it was a preseason game, but it’s startling how much the active roster has changed at the position in just a few days. This is probably the most interesting battle going on at camp, so I thought I’d take a closer look at the position battle.

The Roster Locks

Julian Edelman: The Super Bowl MVP has been cleared to practice and will be a full go for the regular season.

N’Keal Harry: Nothing in life is guaranteed, but a first round pick making the active roster is pretty close.

Matthew Slater: He has one career catch and is arguably the safest bet on this list.

Josh Gordon: Gordon is the only player on this list that gives me some pause. Not because I don’t think he makes the team, but because I think there’s a chance he starts the season on the non-football injury list (NFI). With two weeks to get back up to game speed, though, I think he’ll be ready to go week one. Yes, I’m aware I avoided the obvious and didn’t mention him possibly having trouble making it through a full season. Let’s just assume that the coaching staff believes that he can. Otherwise, why hold onto him for so long?

The Undrafted Rookie Who Has Played His Way Onto the Roster

Jakobi Meyers: That’s right, Jakobi has earned a bold header all to himself. Take Malcolm Butler’s training camp in 2014 and multiply it by sixteen (see what I did there), and you have Jakobi’s camp. At this point, I think everyone would be shocked if Meyers didn’t make the 53-man roster next weekend.

The Veterans Coming Off Surgery We Haven’t Seen Yet

Demaryius Thomas: Thomas tore his Achilles last season with Houston. Most people assumed he’d start the year on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), but was activated earlier this week. We haven’t seen anything from him, other than him working out a little during practices. He has been with Edelman every step of the way, and has clearly built some chemistry with Tom Brady, but we haven’t seen anything on the field yet.

Back when the Patriots signed him, I wrote he could be this season’s Eric Decker. A lot of people thought I was wrong, and it looks like we’re going to get the chance to find out very soon. Him coming off the PUP now is interesting, since leaving him on there could’ve delayed the team’s deadline to make a decision. That could be good news for DT, but it could also mean that he needs to beat someone out for his roster spot. Him being activated is going to make the next two weeks a little more interesting.

Cameron Meredith: The chances of Meredith making the active roster are incredibly slim, simply because it appears he isn’t ready to practice yet. This is simply an example of the Patriots having him stick around for a while, and seeing if they may need some help down the road. If everyone stays healthy, I would assume that Meredith never comes off the PUP this season.

Veterans Without Practice Squad Eligibility

Phillip Dorsett: Dorsett has been on the team the last two seasons and although he hasn’t made a ton of catches, he always seems ready to make a big play when called upon. I was someone who thought he would be used a lot more last season, especially with Edelman’s suspension, but that didn’t happen. He made a great touchdown catch in the AFC Championship Game, and also had a score against the Chargers. He also had zero targets in the Super Bowl, though, so it’s not as if he was ever a huge part of the offense.

It does seem like this team is built around guys who get the job done when they are needed. Dorsett only has 44 regular season catches in two seasons with the Patriots, but has a 73% catch percentage on his targets. Long story short: he comes through when his number is called, but is replaceable if the team thinks someone else can do the job better, or just as good for less money.

Maurice Harris: Harris had a great start to camp, consistently running with the ones, and looking pretty good while doing it. The emergence of Jakobi Meyers has taken a little of his shine, which has also been dampened by a few costly drops, including a probable touchdown in the first preseason game. With Meyers playing so consistently well, and playing essentially the same position as Harris, it has started to feel like Harris might be on the outside looking in. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a spot for him, but the role of big slot seems to be getting filled by Jakobi Meyers, which means Harris is going to have to find a new role to fill if he wants to survive cut down day.

Young Guys With Practice Squad Eligibility

Braxton Berrios: Berrios is the guy that everyone is looking at. He was the prototypical Patriots receiver — short, white, and quick — and everyone had him going to New England during last year’s draft, and then it actually happened. Berrios ended up on IR last season, however, and so he never really had a chance to contribute. He ran a pretty solid whip route in the first preseason game to convert a 4th and short, which looked pretty good.

If Berrios makes the team, it’s going to be because of his special teams play, and because the Patriots feel they need a backup for Edelman. He is practice squad eligible, but it is very likely he’d be picked up by another team if the Patriots do decide to cut him next week.

Damoun Patterson: Patterson was a standout on the practice squad last season, and has had a decent camp. He made a great catch on a back-shoulder throw by Jarrett Stidham against Tennessee last week. His value is really going to have to come from special teams, and I just don’t know if it’s going to be enough to keep him around. If they did decide to cut him, based on the fact that people called out how good he was in practice last season, and the decent camp he’s put together this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got scooped up by another team.

Gunner Olszewski: The undrafted rookie started off camp with a bang, and made a pretty immediate impact on offense and in the kicking game. He has fizzled a little since, and has seen himself drop further and further down the depth chart. Another willing participant on special teams, that’s where most of his value would be for the team, but I don’t see him making the active roster. Olszewski is a good example of a player who could slip through to the practice squad, if the Patriots decide to cut him next week.

Ryan Davis: Davis is the all-time leader in receptions in Auburn school history. His bread and butter were short routes and quick screens, which should sound familiar. He is another willing participant on special teams who can also return kicks and punts but hasn’t really gotten a chance to show much in camp, and has no real shot of making the team. The good news is, if he Patriots want him, they should be able to get him onto the practice squad.

My Prediction

In the end, I think the best camp battle is going to be very close, but I feel like they keep seven total receivers:

Julian Edelman

N’Keal Harry

Josh Gordon

Matthew Slater

Demaryius Thomas

Jakobi Meyers

Braxton Berrios

The first six shouldn’t surprise you, but I’m going with Berrios for my last spot over Dorsett and Harris. My reasoning is that Dorsett, although he doesn’t have great size, is more of an outside receiver. They have a few of those guys already, and, assuming Demaryius Thomas is okay, they are all better than him. Harris is a big slot, whose job, I think, is being taking by Meyers. Berrios does something that Patriots covet, which is run quick, precise routes that get him open. He also returns punts, which can take some pressure off Edelman as well. After all, the Super Bowl MVP is 33, and the Patriots need him to be healthy all year.

So that’s my prediction for the receiving corps. They’ll be more roster predictions coming from me, and the rest of the staff here at Pats Pulpit. Let me know who you think will make the roster at the receiver position.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast

Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats