With free agency and the draft firmly in the rear-view mirror and organized team activities underway, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 85 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with veteran wide receiver DeVante Parker.
Name: DeVante Parker
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 11
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6-foot-3, 219 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2023 (2024 UFA)
What is his experience? Coming off a highly productive college career at Louisville, Parker was the third wide receiver off the board in the 2015 NFL Draft: the Miami Dolphins invested the 14th overall selection in the first round to bring him in, but he had only a limited impact on their offense as a rookie. Parker’s role grew substantially the following year, and he improved in every statistical category from catches (26 to 56), to receiving yards (494 to 744), to touchdowns (3 to 4) to playing time share (52% to 82%).
His sophomore year was a sign of things to come for Parker, for better or worse. While he proved himself a productive pass catcher capable of playing at a starter-caliber level, he also struggled to stay healthy throughout the campaign and missed time due to injury. His next two seasons were more of the same — good production, uneven availability — but the Dolphins still decided to exercise the fifth-year option in his rookie contract. Parker showed the team that it was right to make that call.
The 2019 season, after all, turned out to be the most productive of his career: not missing any games due to injury for the first time, Parker set new career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He earned a four-year, $40 million contract extension as a result, but just two years into that deal was traded to New England. The 29-year-old left Miami having appeared in a combined 94 regular season and playoff games. Along the way, he caught 342 passes for 4,782 yards and 24 touchdowns.
What did his 2021 season look like? Coming off an injury-riddled 2020 campaign, Parker faced some more adversity in what turned out to be his final season as a Dolphin. Not only did the team change offensive coordinators for a fifth straight year, its most experienced wide receiver was again hampered by injuries — starting with a hamstring issue that already impacted him the previous year and also forced him to open Miami’s 2021 training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Parker was eventually activated off PUP in August, but did not see any action during the preseason. He therefore made his 2021 in-game debut in the regular season opener versus New England. Catching four passes for 81 yards, Parker had one of the most productive games of his season that day. It was a promising start for the then-28-year-old, and he added 13 more receptions for 161 yards and one touchdown over the next three games. However, his momentum was not built to last.
After all, the injury bug bit him again in early October and he had to miss Miami’s next three games due to a shoulder ailment. Parker returned in Week 8 for an eight-catch, 85-yard outing versus a stout Buffalo Bills defense, but a setback with his hamstring sidelined him for the next four games; the Dolphins sent him to injured reserve and he missed all of their games in November. Parker was productive in his immediate return against the New York Giants — catching five passes for 62 yards — but played a comparatively small role.
In general, the final five games of his tenure in Miami were nothing to write home about. Parker was targeted a total of 31 times but he caught only 15 passes for 188 yards and a score. In total, he therefore ended his 2021 season with 40 receptions on 73 targets for a combined 515 yards and two touchdowns. Appearing in 10 out of 17 games, he was on the field for 539 of a possible 1,154 offensive snaps (46.7%). In terms of production and playing time share, Parker served as the Dolphins’ number two wide receiver.
What is his projected role? The Dolphins employed Parker primarily as an X-receiver on the outside of the formation, and the belief is that his usage will not change dramatically upon his arrival in New England. His 6-foot-3, 219-pound frame makes him an intriguing option to play that role, after all, and to attack the deep parts of the field. It also allows him to make an impact on contested catches and jump-balls either down the sideline or in the red area.
Does he have positional versatility? Parker is not a one-trick pony, but he also is not a do-it-all wideout in the mold of new teammates Jakobi Meyers or Kendrick Bourne. He will align outside the formation most of the time, and play a more clearly-defined role. That being said, New England’s coaching staff will likely try to take advantage of his size and yards-after-the-catch abilities in more than one way and therefore use him not just as a deep threat but in the short and intermediate parts of the field as well.
What is his special teams value? Parker’s special teams value is virtually non-existent: in seven years in the NFL, he has played a grand total of eight special teams snaps. That means that not even 0.2 percent of his snaps at the pro level have come in the kicking game. While New England has never shied away from using prominent players in the game’s third phase, Parker earning a regular role there seems highly unlikely.
What is his salary cap situation? When the Patriots acquired Parker, they took on the remaining two years of the contract extension he signed with the Dolphins in 2019. The cost associated with that pact is manageable in both years. As far as 2022 is concerned, he will hit the Patriots’ salary cap with $6.06 million — currently the 11th highest cap number on the team. New England is paying Parker a salary of $5.65 million as well as a $100,000 workout bonus and $412,500 worth of likely-to-be-earned roster bonuses. The deal does not include any guarantees.
How safe is his roster spot? Parker can be considered a near-lock to make the Patriots’ roster this year. Not only did the team invest a 2023 third-round draft pick in him (and a 2022 fifth-rounder), he also offers some considerable WR1 upside on the perimeter — something the team sorely lacked the last few years. With Tyquan Thornton unproven, Nelson Agholor projecting more favorably at the Z and N’Keal Harry seemingly on his way out, Parker projects as the number one option at the X-receiver spot and as such a starter-level member of New England’s passing offense.
One-sentence projection: If Parker can stay healthy and adapt well to the Patriots’ offensive system, he should be able to carve out a prominent role right away and give Mac Jones a trustworthy downfield threat capable of cracking 1,000 receiving yards.