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Patriots training camp preview: Who will emerge as New England’s top wide receiver?

Related: Patriots training camp preview: How will practice reps be distributed at running back?

NFL: JUN 08 New England Patriots Minicamp Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ 2022 training camp is right around the corner. Later this month, the team will reconvene at Gillette Stadium to kick off its next level of preparation for the upcoming season — and all that goes with it: full-contact practices, camp competitions, joint sessions, you name it.

Leading up to this year’s camp, we will take a look at all position groups on New England’s roster to give you some idea about the key actors, battles and storylines at each of them. Today, we will continue at wide receiver.

Position group

The Patriots have made some moves at wide receiver this offseason. With the dust now settled after their trades, draft pickup and free agency signings the team is left with the following 11 players currently under contract at the position:

  • Jakobi Meyers: 25 | signed through 2022 | Roster breakdown
  • Kendrick Bourne: 26 | signed through 2023
  • DeVante Parker: 29 | signed through 2023 | Roster breakdown
  • Nelson Agholor: 29 | signed through 2022 | Roster breakdown
  • Tyquan Thornton: 21 | signed through 2025
  • Ty Montgomery: 29 | signed through 2023 | Roster breakdown
  • Kristian Wilkerson: 25 | signed through 2022 | Roster breakdown
  • Tre Nixon: 24 | signed through 2022
  • Lil’Jordan Humphrey: 24 | signed through 2022
  • Malcolm Perry: 25 | signed through 2022 | Roster breakdown
  • Matthew Slater: 36 | signed through 2022 | Roster breakdown

The Patriots completely rebuilt their wide receiver position over the last two years. After adding the likes of Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Tre Nixon and Malcolm Perry last year, they brought DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Ty Montgomery and Lil’Jordan Humphrey aboard in 2022.

Not all of them will make the roster, of course, but they will make for a fun competition at a position lacking major star power but having solid depth both the interior spots and on the boundary — depth that took virtually no hit when first-round bust N’Keal Harry was traded to Chicago last week. Harry himself would likely not have found his way onto the roster anyway, especially given that six players can already be identified as locks or near-locks.

Meyers and Bourne will be the chain-movers from the Z/slot positions, with Parker and Thornton offering upside on the perimeter. Additionally, Agholor is expected to offer depth and experience at both spots with team captain Matthew Slater rounding out the group due to his special teams prowess.

Camp competitions

Kendrick Bourne vs. Jakobi Meyers: First things first. Bourne and Meyers can coexist in the Patriots’ offense. In fact, they did so last year and they will continue to do so in 2022. That said, the two are expected to compete for a role recently played by Meyers: Mac Jones’ go-to guy in critical situations. Meyers was a reliable target, catching 32 passes on third and fourth downs compared to Bourne’s 17. The question is whether or not the latter will be able to make a jump in his second year in the system and cut into Meyers’ target share in situations like these.

Ty Montgomery vs. Kristian Wilkerson vs. Tre Nixon vs. Lil’Jordan Humphrey vs. Malcolm Perry: As noted above, the Patriots have six wideouts who are relatively safe bets to make the team. In turn, there might not be more than one spot available for the rest of the wideouts on the 53 — if even that. That means that we can identify five players who will be competing for limited vacancies on both the roster and the practice squad, even though those players do not necessarily all fall into the same type of wide receiver category.

Stories to watch

Will a true WR1 emerge? Even though Jakobi Meyers led the Patriots in receptions the last two years he is no true WR1 in the sense that opposing defenses need to invest extra resources to stop him. Will that ever happen? Possibly not, but that does not mean New England has no candidates to fill such a role: the aforementioned Kendrick Bourne or trade acquisition DeVante Parker are the most likely candidates. In the long term maybe speedy rookie Tyquan Thornton can put some extra stress on opponents.

How quickly will the new additions build a chemistry with Mac Jones? Speaking of Parker and Thornton, they are part of this year’s offseason additions to the group alongside Ty Montgomery and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. While the latter two are in a different situation — both are on the roster bubble — all of them will face the same task if they want to find success in 2022: get on the same page with quarterback Mac Jones quickly.

How much action will Tyquan Thornton see? As for Thornton, he joined the Patriots as a second-round draft pick earlier this year and is a lock to make the roster. That does not mean he will make an immediate positive impact, though: the 21-year-old out of Baylor saw some time with the starters in minicamp, but projects as the number two X-receiver behind Parker. Will he challenge the veteran and earn himself regular reps with Mac Jones and company?

Will offseason standout Tre Nixon be able to make the cut? No wide receiver looked more impressive than Nixon during mandatory minicamp, with the second-year man catching a team-high seven passes from Mac Jones over two practices. The former practice squad member will need to build on this momentum if he wants a chance to make the roster, especially given the situation outlined above: no more than one spot, if even that, appears to be open on the 53-man team.

How will Nelson Agholor be used? Agholor served as the Patriots’ top option at the X-receiver spot in 2021 but the arrivals of Thornton and in particular Parker might lead to his role changing into more of a hybrid X/Z — one that might suit him better and lead to more favorable matchups. Of course, all of that is speculation until the team actually starts going through full team drills and preseason contests. No matter what happens, though, Agholor will likely make the team based on his contract situation.