Earlier today, the New England Patriots made a shocking acquisition: the reigning world champions brought recently released Antonio Brown on board on a one-year contract worth up to $15 million. Needless to say that Brown adds immense talent to the Patriots’ receiving arsenal — one that entered the offseason with plenty of questions but has since turned into one of the most talented units in all of football.
With that in mind, let’s reset New England’s wide receiver depth chart. Of course, you always have to keep in mind that the labels are not exclusive, and that most players are capable of playing multiple positions.
N’Keal Harry (IR)
Gordon’s reinstatement added a starting-caliber player to the Patriots’ group of X-receiver — one that will see considerable action as the team’s primary target on the perimeter. The 28-year-old also lifted some pressure off N’Keal Harry. The first-round rookie, of course, opens the year on injured reserve after dealing with minor foot/hamstring injuries during the latter portions of training camp and the preseason. He is expected to be activated again at one point, though.
The Patriots also have Phillip Dorsett under contract as a rotational X-receiver behind Gordon. While the former first-round draft selection may not be the most spectacular option, he does bring considerable experience and a rapport with quarterback Tom Brady to the table. Behind him, special teams ace Matthew Slater is also on the roster. That being said, he is little more than an emergency option.
Cameron Meredith (PUP)
While Antonio Brown could also play the X and slot roles, he might jump right in as the Patriots’ primary Z-receiver in three-receiver sets: he has the speed, quickness and deep-ball ability to play the role and turn into one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets rather quickly (not too quickly, though, as he will have to sit out Week 1). His addition also pushes the other two Z-options down the depth chart a bit.
Demaryius Thomas, who looked very good in his preseason debut, will likely see more rotational and package-specific snaps moving forward. Jakobi Meyers, meanwhile, should be little more than a developmental option: given the veteran talent ahead of him on the depth chart, the undrafted rookie is not expected to see much playing time in 2019.
Edelman sees plenty of snaps outside the numbers as well, so he is more of a Z than a traditional slot receiver. Realistically, however, he and Brown will move around quite a bit in three-receiver sets with Gordon a rather safe bet to play on the perimeter. No matter where he lines up, the Super Bowl MVP will remain Brady’s go-to pass catcher even with the likes of Brown, Gordon and Thomas (and running back James White) also available.
Gunner Olszewski, meanwhile, might be the number one candidate to get cut to make room on the roster for Brown: the undrafted rookie barely made the 53-man team and always felt like a player whose spot was far from safe. While he does have value as a returnman, it will probably not save him from getting the axe soon. Olszewski could be an option for the practice squad, however.