While the New England Patriots invested a first-round draft pick in the wide receiver position last spring when they selected N’Keal Harry 32nd overall, an undrafted free agent might just have been the team’s offensive rookie of the year in 2019: following an impressive training camp, Jakobi Meyers earned himself a spot on New England’s 53-man roster and went on to appear in 15 of the team’s 17 games during his first campaign in the NFL.
While Meyers served primarily as a depth option throughout the season and had his fair share of ups and downs amidst some obvious growing pains, he still played 416 of a possible 1,210 offensive snaps (34.4%) and registered 26 catches for 359 yards. He was not a consistent threat defensive coordinators needed to prioritize in their game-planning, as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick pointed out, but still had some positive moments in 2019.
Let’s therefore take a closer look at his performance to find out where Meyers already performed well, and where there is still room for growth if he wants to again make the team in 2020 and carve out a regular role within New England’s offense.
Despite having to adapt to playing in one of the NFL’s most challenging offensive systems, Meyers had plenty of positive moments in 2019. His route running certainly is one of them as the undrafted rookie proved to be one of New England’s best in this area all year long. He was sudden in his breaks, effectively attacked leverage, and was able to get cornerbacks to shuffle and/or open their hips in order to shake free against press coverage.
Furthermore, Meyers was not afraid to get physical against defensive backs as the video below also illustrates:
Sorry for the gray out. Here’s the video pic.twitter.com/5fn89lgaBr— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) January 17, 2020
For a player who saw most of his action from the slot (228 snaps as opposed to 181 on the perimeter), Meyers also was effective on the outside. This was particularly true when it came to running deep curls — something former Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell also did very well in his first and unfortunately only season in New England — as the first two clips above show: Meyers, lining up on the outside each time, was feisty on the top of his routes and able to generate separation while quickly coming back for the football.
In general, his route running was good in 2019 and he created a solid foundation to build on heading into his second year in the system. Ideally, his route tree will therefore expand further in 2020 to take advantage of his solid technique and to incorporate more looks from the outside as a true Z-receiver.
One of the main issues during Meyers’ first year with the Patriots was his inability to consistently generate separation when facing press-man coverage. However, he was still able to make his fair share of plays even when failing to get significantly open or when the football arrived late: the rookie was very good when he had to make contested catches against tight coverage.
When Meyers didn't create much separation or the ball arrived late, he was very good making catches against tight coverage, including some money grabs on 3rd down.— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) January 17, 2020
When snatching the ball outside his frame, the rookie did a great job quickly tucking it away to avoid breakups pic.twitter.com/Aq4pZCzIKa
When snatching the football outside his frame, Meyers did a great job of quickly tucking it away to avoid potential breakups. This proved especially important on third downs: Tom Brady targeted the rookie 11 times in those situations, with six of the passes being completed for a new set of downs. Meyers’ hands and ability to hold onto the football even when challenged immediately after the reception showed up during training camp, and he continued to display tremendous skills in this area during the season.
He also was able to make some terrific adjustments in his routes to come away with some lower passes before they hit the turf:
Flashed the ability to adjust and scoop low passes before they hit the turf a few times last season pic.twitter.com/ofLKlEyRjn— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) January 17, 2020
His back-shoulder grab against the New York Giants (0:14) is especially noteworthy in this regard: while the football was arriving low and away from his body, Meyers adjusted quickly out of his break to put himself in the best possible position to secure the 23-yard reception while going down. He also made sure to immediately tuck the football into his chest to secure it against a possible defensive breakup or the ground knocking it loose.
While Meyers showcased some impressive hands over the course of his first season as a pro, he also had some drops along the way: Pro Football Focus graded 29 of the 40 passes thrown his way as “catchable” and the youngster made the receptions on 26 of those. The other three passes, meanwhile, were credited as drops for a rate of 10.3% — the third highest among New England’s wide receivers (but only the sixth highest among the 11 receivers to see 10+ catchable passes thrown their way).
Meyers also suffered from concentration drops, but given they weren't a real issue in college I'm not overly worried pic.twitter.com/xcUkU7QHbn— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) January 17, 2020
The biggest issue when it came to Meyers’ dropped passes seemed to be concentration: he either took his eyes off the football too soon, or braced for potential impact before completing the reception. That being said, letting the football go through his hands was not a major issue for him when he was playing at N.C. State, so it appears as if some more experience and practice should help improve his drop rate in 2020.
Yards after the catch
Meyers was never a huge threat after the catch going all the way back to his college days, but his average of 4.6 yards after the reception in 2019 actually ranked him ahead of the Patriots’ other primary wide receivers:
- N’Keal Harry: 3.4
- Julian Edelman: 3.2
- Mohamed Sanu: 2.8
- Phillip Dorsett II: 2.7
How was this possible? A lot of it had to do with scheme, as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was able to get him open at times on underneath crossing patterns. However, Meyers’ competitiveness and physicality also played a role:
It was clear from Meyers' college tape that he wasn't a huge threat after the catch, but he's always been tough with the ball in his hands. If defenders tackled him top high or didn't wrap up, he wasn't going down pic.twitter.com/Zm45FlAyJk— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) January 17, 2020
If defenders attempted to tackle the 23-year-old too high or did not wrap up properly, he regularly kept his legs active to gain additional yards after contact or use his upper body to push them away from him. This happened numerous times in 2019, which speaks for his ability to generate yards following receptions even though he lacks elite straight-line speed or short-area quickness.
The biggest issue with Meyers in 2019 was his frequent miscommunication with his quarterback. Tom Brady and the youngster were too often not on the same page, with the future Hall of Fame quarterback throwing a couple of long stares towards the receiver for not being in the correct spot.
Biggest issue with Meyers was too often being on a different page than Brady, who threw the receiver a couple long stares for not being in the right spot.— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) January 17, 2020
1: Doesn't follow Brady's signal and adjust his route
2: Runs into coverage
3: Takes too long to uncover as hot read pic.twitter.com/zLLAdSCUVA
Essentially, three main reasons can be identified why Meyers struggled in this area during his first year of playing alongside the old perfectionist that is Brady:
1.) He didn’t follow Brady’s pre-snap signals to adjust his route.
2.) He ran straight into the teeth of the coverage.
3.) He took too long to get open as Brady’s hot read.
All three of the issues have more to do with experience and knowledge of the system than with pure skill, which means that Meyers should be able to get better with added practice and playing time. He was, after all, still a rookie in 2019 and his growth was somewhat inconsistent throughout the season.
Nevertheless, there were a lot of positives both in terms of reading defenses correctly and when it came to making plays as a rotational third/fourth wide receiver. Meyers will therefore be an interesting player to watch over the course of spring and summer, and when it comes to making the famous second-year jump.