The New England Patriots invested some considerable resources in their wide receiver position this offseason, signing Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to multi-year deals in free agency. But while they and third-year man Jakobi Meyers are building the top layer of the depth chart, the spots behind them are open for business.
Just like last year, Isaiah Zuber is trying to get one of them. An undrafted rookie free agent signing by the Patriots last spring, Zuber did not have the benefit of a normal offseason or any preseason games to prove his value due to the Coronavirus pandemic. He still found his way onto the team’s practice squad and was elevated to the game-day roster on four different occasions during the regular season.
Now in his first traditional offseason, Zuber will be trying to build on his one year of experience to possibly make it onto the 53-man roster or developmental squad once again. He already appears to be off to an encouraging start.
“I’ve just been in the offense for a whole year. I’m just more comfortable now,” he said during a recent media conference call. “I feel more like myself. I feel like I’m not doing too much thinking. I’m more going out there and just playing — play fast and stuff like that.”
Zuber has been an active participant during the Patriots’ offseason workouts. While seemingly still behind the projected top-five at the wide receiver position — Agholor, Bourne and Meyers, as well as N’Keal Harry and Gunner Olszewski — his stock has been rising due to some solid plays during organized team activities and mandatory minicamp.
The 24-year-old, however, is not changing his approach regardless of how much action he might see or where his spot on the depth chart.
“I’m just approaching it like ‘Come to work every day,’” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll be on the active roster or the practice squad. I’m just coming in attacking each and every day. I’m just trying to get better every day.”
Zuber already showed some early promise during the 2020 season. As mentioned above, he finished his rookie year with four in-game appearances as well as 26 total snaps — all of which on the offensive side of the ball. When on the field, he touched the football four combined times: Zuber registered a pair of receptions that he took for 29 yards as well as two hand-offs for 21 additional yards.
Even though his playing time was limited, the Patriots trusted him with the ball and he made the most out of his opportunities.
“It actually helped me a lot,” Zuber said when speaking about the first four games of his professional career. “Being able to play just a little bit, just to see how it is, it just gave me the confidence like, ‘Okay, yeah, I can go out and just play with these guys.’ I felt confident out there with these guys.”
In order to get more chances like that, Zuber is well aware what he needs to do: gain even more confidence in the offense, and show the coaches and quarterbacks that he carry out his assignments on a consistent basis.
“More studying, make sure I get everything down too, all the little stuff,” he said about his to-do list for the six-week summer break before the beginning of training camp. “Most of the time you probably don’t know your route but you have to know if it’s this coverage you’re doing this, if it’s this coverage then you’re doing this. That’s more of the stuff I’m worried about right now.”
The Patriots will open their training camp in late July, and Zuber will face considerable competition for a finite number of roster spots. Not only will he go up against the aforementioned N’Keal Harry and Gunner Olszewski — a former first-round draft pick and the reigning All-Pro punt returner — but also seventh-round rookie Tre Nixon and fellow wideouts Marvin Hall, Kristian Wilkerson and Devin Smith.