Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s second-year players.
Name: Jakobi Meyers
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 16
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-2, 200 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 RFA)
What is his experience? Meyers’ tenure in the NFL began when the Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent shortly after last year’s draft. Despite his status as an unselected player, however, he was able to show his value as a rotational pass catcher during spring and training camp practices and eventually made New England’s 53-man roster as a depth option at wide receiver. As such, Meyers went on to appear in 15 games over the course of the 2019 season.
While his pro-level experience is comparatively limited, Meyers did play plenty of football during his time at N.C. State. After joining the school as a quarterback, he transitioned to wide receiver a week before the start of his redshirt freshman campaign. His initial impact on the offense was limited, but he developed into a reliable receiving option for the team and finished his college career with 31 in-game appearances as well as 168 catches for 1,932 yards and nine touchdowns.
What did his 2019 season look like? After not hearing his name called during the draft, the Patriots brought Meyers on board during the subsequent free agency period on a deal that included just $70,000 in guarantees. Nevertheless, Meyers left a good early impression during spring practices and later also saw prominent snaps within the offense in training camp and the preseason. In fact, he finished the exhibition schedule as New England’s number one wide receiver: the rookie caught 20 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns — leading the team in each category.
Meyers’ preseason success extended only partially into the regular season, though, despite the Patriots’ turnover higher up on the position depth chart. While he saw prominent action in some of the team’s games — Meyers played 50+% of New England’s offensive snaps in six contests — he also was used only sparingly or not at all in others. When all was said and done, he had appeared in 15 of 16 regular season games and was a healthy scratch for the wild card playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.
In total, Meyers was on the field for 416 of a possible 1,210 offensive snaps (34.4%) while registering 26 receptions on 40 catchable targets for a combined 359 yards. The numbers are reflective of his usage and his first NFL campaign as a whole: he was a depth option at wide receiver throughout the year, and not a consistent threat defensive coordinators needed to prioritize in their game-planning, as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick pointed out. However, he still had some positive moments in 2019.
Meyers’ route-running was solid — he was physical, sudden in his breaks, and effectively attacked leverage — and he also registered a higher yards-after-the-catch number (4.6) than the other wide receivers on New England’s final 53-man roster. Yes, he had his fair share of communication errors and concentration drops, and never established himself as an every-down option, but his overall performance during his first year in the Patriots’ notoriously challenging system was still an encouraging one.
What is his projected role? The Patriots regularly used Meyers both on the outside and in the slot over the course of his rookie campaign, and he generally responded well to being moved around the formation. Entering the 2020 season, he therefore will likely again be employed in a similar fashion: the 23-year-old projects to compete for a role as a Z-receiver and to carve out a regular spot in the rotation alongside the projected numbers one and two at the position, Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry.
What is his special teams value? While undrafted players oftentimes find their way onto the Patriots’ roster through their special teams work, Meyers went a different route: he made the team despite not having any noticeable impact in the kicking game. In fact, he played a mere two snaps in the game’s third phase in 2019 (plus three more in preseason) and did not register any statistics. Based on his track record and limited abilities as a returnman, therefore, he should not be counted on to suddenly become a core contributor on special teams.
Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, the Patriots opted to give Meyers looks both on the perimeter and in the slot in 2019. He also has some experience outside the traditional receiving positions as well, though: a high school quarterback, Meyers attempted four throws after moving to receiver at N.C. State, completing one of them for 25 yards. That is pretty much the extent of his versatility, however, considering that he has neither proven his value in the kicking game nor as a ball carrier (his 11 rushing attempts in college went for a combined -7 yards).
What is his salary cap situation? Meyers signed a standard three-year undrafted rookie deal last spring, which means that he is on the Patriots’ books this season with a salary cap number of $678,333. This number currently puts him below the top-51 threshold, however, meaning that his contract is currently not counting against New England’s cap and will only do so if he makes the team’s roster in September. In case he fails to do that, the Patriots would only take on a minimal dead money hit: Meyers has just $6,667 in guarantees — his signing bonus proration for the 2020 and 2021 seasons — remaining on his deal.
What is his roster outlook? Despite a promising rookie campaign and solid connection with projected starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham, Meyers cannot be considered a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster this year: too inconsistent were his performances and his playing time in 2019, even though the Patriots’ wide receiver position as a whole struggled. If Meyers can make the famous second-year jump and possibly start contributing on special teams, however, he should at least be in a position to again carve out a role as a rotational third/fourth receiver.