Over the first five games of the season, sophomore wide receiver Jakobi Meyers played only 22 offensive snaps and caught just one pass for seven yards. The sophomore wide receiver was an afterthought in the New England Patriots’ offense, and little more than an emergency option behind top-three pass catchers Damiere Byrd, N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman.
It all changed in Week 7, though, when Harry was forced out of the game against the San Francisco 49ers after sustaining a concussion. The Patriots turned to Meyers to help fill Harry’s role in the lineup, and what they have gotten since was consistent production that is unrivaled on the team over the last three games.
With Harry out and Edelman later being moved to injured reserve, the youngster emerged as New England’s number one receiver. He caught four passes for 60 yards against the 49ers, and added six receptions for 58 versus the Buffalo Bills one week later. Those two games pale in comparison to the birthday present he made himself on Monday Night Football against the New York Jets.
Playing all but one of the Patriots’ 81 offensive snaps, Meyers was targeted 16 times by quarterback Cam Newton and set new career numbers in receptions and yards: he caught 12 passes for 169 yards — quite the output for the birthday boy, whose 24th birthday saw New England defeat the Jets 30-27 to snap a four-game losing streak.
“It was a great opportunity,” Meyers said during a media conference call after the most productive game of his career. “We had a couple of struggling weeks, but to come out here and see everybody fight, a bunch of young guys stepping in, it was a lot of fun. I truly enjoy the game and hopefully we can build off of this.”
Meyers’ emergence helped the Patriots offense build on the foundation it created in the second half against Buffalo. The unit finished with 433 net yards, of which 294 came via the passing game. More than half of those passing yards were accumulated on the 12 times that Cam Newton connected with Meyers, including a crucial 20-yard reception that set up the game-winning field goal with just three seconds remaining in regulation.
After the game, the Patriots’ starting quarterback spoke highly of his favorite target.
“I’m extremely proud of Jakobi,” Newton said. “He’s a person who I’ve known the longest this whole ordeal. Me knowing Jakobi when he was 16, 17 years old coming out of high school, and both of us being from the greater Atlanta area... For him to be morphing into the player that he is today, it’s just hard work paying off for him. He’s learned so much from believing in his system and also learning from the best to do it, the gritty type of guy in [Edelman].”
Newton also touched on how Meyers’ experience playing the quarterback position — he was a QB in high school and even participated on a 7-on-7 team coached by Newton — has helped him develop into a viable NFL receiver.
“Playing the quarterback position makes you intellectually sound, cerebral by the fall, because you know what the quarterback is looking for,” said Newton. “He’s such an easy target to throw to, as you can kind of tell, and he just finds a way to get open. He’s got a knack for the ball, and his decisiveness while running routes... It’s easy to tell where his body language is going to go. For him to have the performance that he had tonight, ongoing these last couple of weeks, it’s just a show of hard work paying off.”
Meyers’ quarterback was not the only prominent voice in the Patriots’ organization to praise the young wideout after his career day against New York. Head coach Bill Belichick also joined in, breaking down the details that have helped the now-24-year-old turn into a valuable member of New England’s passing offense over the last few weeks and even before that.
“Jakobi’s done a good job for us all year,” Belichick said about the former undrafted rookie free agent. “He’s a good route-runner, really understands coverages and timing and when to be open on the route, and how to take advantage of different coverage leverages. Cam did an excellent job. We missed him on one big-play opportunity, but Cam hit him quite a few times. It must have been double digits there.”
Double digits it was indeed, with Meyers’ output against the Jets pushing him up the Patriots’ statistical leaderboard. He is now ranked third on the team in both catches (23) and receiving yards (294) this season, and his numbers certainly also hold up when compared to those posted by the men he helped replace: Julian Edelman sits at 21 receptions for 315 yards, with N’Keal Harry having caught 19 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown so far.
“I’m just a young guy trying to take advantage of my opportunities. The more they give me, the more I’m going to try to do,” Meyers said. “Hopefully, I can keep building and building, and every week gets better than the week before. Just keep taking advantage of those opportunities and keep trying to grow every day.
“Hopefully, I’m just building that trust and the coaches see what I can do. I just have to keep putting good stuff on tape and keep working to get better every day. I mean, it was definitely a fun game, I’m not going to lie. It was just fun to be out there with the team. I just enjoyed every moment of it. So, hopefully, I’ll keep building on that game and try to get better.”
Based on his growth over the last three games, Meyers has been able to build that trust as of late. It is also what has allowed him to celebrate his 24th birthday with a career performance.