With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto the upcoming 2022 season.
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 Kendrick Bourne.
Name: Kendrick Bourne
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 84
Opening day age: 27
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 developed into a reliable member of the 49ers’ passing game as a rotational second or third option capable of aligning all over the formation. His performance set him up nicely for a trip to free agency in 2021, and Bourne ended up signing a three-year contract with the Patriots. He went on to produce the best season of his career with his new team. All in all, he has appeared in 79 games and has registered 205 catches for 2,734 yards and 19 touchdowns.
What did his 2021 season look like? Bourne entered unrestricted free agency in March 2021 after having set new career-highs in receptions (49) and receiving yards (667) the previous season. He therefore caught the Patriots’ eyes, who, equipped with one of the biggest salary cap space numbers in the the NFL, made sure not to let him go elsewhere: on the first day of the league’s legal tampering period, New England and Bourne reached an agreement on a there-year, $15 million contract.
While not the highest-prized offseason acquisition, Bourne’s deal offered some immediate return on investment. The fifth-year wideout, after all, developed a good chemistry with rookie starting quarterback Mac Jones and ended his first season in New England as one of the team’s best and most consistent offensive skill position players: appearing in all 18 games and playing 611 of 1,169 offensive snaps (52.3%), he was one of only two players — the other being Damien Harris — to surpass the 1,000 yards from scrimmage mark.
Bourne did so primarily by being a productive pass catcher. Even though he missed some practice time and subsequently was a non-factor in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills after a Covid-19 test, he still ended the season having caught a combined 62 passes on 78 targets for 877 yards and seven touchdowns. Bourne surpassed his previous season-bests in all those categories, and ended the year ranked second on the roster in all of them: only Jakobi Meyers had more receptions, targets and yards; only Hunter Henry more touchdowns.
Additionally, Bourne also showcased his versatility. He received 13 hand-offs that he took for a total of 139 yards. He even was asked to throw the ball on one occasion: in Week 7 versus the New York Jets, he completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to fellow wide receiver Nelson Agholor. While not all went well — he lost a fumble in Week 8, was the target on an interception in Week 6, and had three drops — Bourne’s 2021 campaign as a whole was a promising one and an encouraging base to build upon.
What is his projected role? Bourne fits what the Patriots are looking for from their wide receivers: even though he is not be the most explosive player, he offers a strong technical foundation, high football IQ and the desired physicality at the top of his routes and as a run blocker. This allowed him to become a productive player in New England right away, while performing at a generally high level no matter what the team asked him to do. As for his role, Bourne will again serve as a starter-level Z-receiver that can also move to the X and slot positions if favorable matchups present themselves there.
Does he have positional versatility? Bourne has shown that he can move around the formation without a problem. In 2021, for example, he spent 37.8 percent of his offensive snaps in the slot (232) and 60.9 percent on the outside (372). New England also used him in the backfield on occasion. His ability to align all over the offense is matched by his skill as a receiver, ball carrier and even passer. The 2021 season showed that Bourne can be a true jack of all trades.
What is his special teams value? While Bourne has a total of 241 special teams snaps on his NFL résumé, only a fraction of those come from his one season in New England so far: the Patriots used him on just four kicking game snaps last season, moving him between the kickoff return (3) and kickoff coverage (1) squads. Heading into 2022, the expectation therefore is that he will again not be a factor in the game’s third phase.
What is his salary cap situation? Even though his salary cap number more than doubled from last year, Bourne’s contract remains very reasonable considering his potential role in the offense. He is playing on a $3.5 million salary, fully-guaranteed $1.42 million signing bonus proration and $1.5 million in likely-to-be-earned bonuses. The resulting $6.42 million salary cap number is currently the eighth highest on the team.
How safe is his roster spot? Bourne may have had a relatively quiet training camp thus far and ran with the second-team offense during the second joint practice with the Carolina Panthers, he is still a lock to make the team — and not just that: Bourne is a realistic candidate to again be one of the most productive players on New England’s roster. At the very least, he will serve as a starter-level player again and finish among the team leaders in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
One-sentence projection: He may not become a 1,000-yard receiver given the depth surrounding him at wide receiver and tight end, but Bourne will see regular opportunities and serve as a valuable option on must-have plays.