With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 91 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we are taking a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series continues with wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.
Name: Kendrick Bourne
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 84
Opening day age: 26
Size: Size: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2023 (2024 UFA)
What is his experience? Despite a productive four-year career at Eastern Washington, Bourne did not hear his name called during the NFL’s 2017 draft. Instead, he had to go the free agency route to find a team. Find one he did: the San Francisco 49ers signed him to a three-year pact, and gave him an opportunity to prove himself. While his first season with the club was a comparatively quiet one — he appeared in 11 games and caught 16 passes for 257 yards — Bourne was able to carve out a bigger role over the next three years.
Appearing in 50 games between 2018 and 2020, Bourne registered 217 catches for 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns. Along the way, he developed into a reliable member of the 49ers’ passing game as a rotational second or third option capable of aligning all over the formation. And even though he had to miss a game on the Coronavirus reserve list during the 2020 season, he still posted new career marks in receptions and receiving yards that year — setting himself up nicely for free agency.
What did his 2020 season look like? After having served as the 49ers’ third wide receiver during the 2019 season, Bourne was headed for restricted free agency. The team made sure to keep him in the fold, though, tendering him at the second-round level — the equivalent of a one-year $3.3 million contract — in mid-March. The former rookie free agent showed that the team was smart to put its trust in him: as noted above, 2020 was the most productive year of Bourne’s career in terms of receptions and yards.
Appearing in 15 of the team’s 16 games, Bourne was targeted 72 times and came away with 49 receptions that he took for 667 yards — ranking second on the team behind only Brandon Aiyuk in all three categories. He also scored a pair of touchdowns while being on the field for 688 of a possible 1,096 offensive snaps (62.77%). While he officially started only five of the 49ers’s games during his 2020 campaign, Bourne was effectively a starter-level player for the team as well as a top-two wide receiver option.
Despite all of his productivity, not all was positive. Bourne, after all, missed his first ever game at both the NFL and college levels following a positive test for the Coronavirus. San Francisco sent him to the Reserve/Covid-19 list in early November ahead of its game against the Green Bay Packers; Bourne spent just two days on the list, but was sent back to it on November 9. He was activated for a second time on November 13, just in time for a game against the New Orleans Saints two days later.
What is his projected role? Bourne may not be the most explosive player, but his strong technical foundation, football IQ and physicality at the top of his routes should allow him to become a productive player in New England’s scheme. He fits what the team is looking for from its wide receivers, and tried to acquire when trading for Mohamed Sanu in 2019. The expectation is that he will help fill the Z-receiver role or move to the X and slot positions if favorable matchups present themselves.
What is his special teams value? Bourne played only four special teams snaps for the 49ers last year, but he does have some experience in the kicking game. Between 2017 and 2019, he played a combined 204 snaps in the game’s third phase: San Francisco employed him on the kickoff and punt return units and also gave him a handful of snaps on kickoff coverage. The Patriots will probably try to limit his exposure on special teams, however, and did not use him there in their first preseason game.
Does he have positional versatility? As mentioned above, Bourne has shown that he can move around the formation without a problem. In 2020, for example, he spent 40.7 percent of his offensive snaps in the slot (280) and 58.4 percent on the outside (402). New England will likely use him in a similar fashion as well, even though he 13 of his 16 snaps in the preseason opener came on the perimeter. His technical proficiency allows him to win from either alignment, even though his general versatility does not really extend beyond that yet.
What is his salary cap situation? Signing a three-year, $15 million contract in New England, Bourne is a comparatively cheap option at wide receiver. In 2020, for example, he will hit the team’s books with a salary cap number of only $3.08 million: Bourne’s salary ($1 million) and signing bonus proration ($1.42 million) are fully guaranteed, while he also has $661,765 in likely to be earned roster bonuses. His cap hit is currently the 20th highest on the team.
What is his roster outlook? Bourne is a lock to be on the Patriots’ roster this year. The main question heading into 2021 is how he will be used and what kind of impact he will have on New England’s passing offense. While that all remains to be seen, it would not be a surprise if the 26-year-old filled a top-three role on the team’s wide receiver depth chart alongside fellow projected starters Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers.