On an offseason list of potential breakout candidates for the New England Patriots in 2022, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne’s name would probably have been pretty high up. For good reason: Bourne was one of the team’s best players in his first year with the club, setting new career-highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2021.
He also proved himself a reliable target for rookie quarterback Mac Jones, and was therefore projected to play a sizable role in the New England offense yet again. However, the outlook is far from clear after what had been an odd summer for the 27-year-old.
Bourne had a quiet training camp, with his most notable moments including getting ejected for fighting in joint practices with the Carolina Panthers and later seeing action with the scout team offense instead of the starters. He also caught only two passes for 16 yards over the course of the preseason.
So, what gives heading into the regular season? Wide receivers coach Troy Brown was asked that question this week, and he did share some thoughts on Bourne’s training camp and preseason outing.
“Obviously, he hasn’t had the type of offseason that he had last year, but he’s been working at it just like everybody else,” Brown said. “He’s coming along, and he’s getting more and more reps as the camp goes on here — as we go into the first game here, he’s getting more and more reps. And we’re going to play the guys who deserve to play.”
Based on his role and production last season, there would have been no doubt that Bourne is deserving of starter-level playing time in 2022 as well. However, the Patriots might be the ultimate “last year doesn’t matter” team in the league.
This, in turn, makes Bourne a relatively uncertain projection in a receiving corps also featuring DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers — three players who appear to have had stronger summers, for comparison. Add the fact that New England will likely rely heavily on two-tight end sets as well, and the road onto the field might not be as open for Bourne as it appeared to be just a few weeks ago.
“I think he’s been making some plays here and there. But for the most part, he’s just been working as hard as the other guys have been working,” Brown said. “We’ve had some guys that have made some plays throughout the course of camp here, and they’re all out there competing and fighting. There’s no named person that’s going to be out there playing more than another person.
“Whoever earns the right to go out there and play are going to be the guys who play for us on Sundays. I mean, he’s not done anything wrong or bad, anything like that, it’s just giving the same amount of reps to all these guys. Injuries happen, things happen, so some guys don’t get reps, some guys do. That’s just part of the game and I tell these guys every week: take advantage of every rep that you’re going to get and make it count for something.”
At least based on outside observation, Bourne has not done that consistently this summer. Then again, there is a difference between practice or preseason and the regular season.
That one will start for the Patriots against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, and it will be the first true look at where Bourne truly stands on the wide receiver depth chart. From starter to role player, everything appears to be on the table — which in itself is a rather unexpected development based on 2021.