For more than a decade, the slot receiver has been a major weapon for the New England Patriots. In light of the sweeping changes on offense, is this an approach we’ll see change heading into the 2020 season and beyond?
No One Works the Slot WR Like Tom Brady
According to Pro Football Focus, since 2016, no QB in the NFL has thrown more TD passes to slot WRs than Tom Brady.
Why has Brady been so adept at taking advantage of the slot WR? Well, he’s had noteworthy chemistry with several players who have excelled at that role with the Patriots.
Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, and Deion Branch were the primary guys who made a mark working on the inside.
There has to be more than Brady’s noteworthy accuracy, and the skill set of the players to attribute to the Patriots’ success in this area of the game.
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Systematic or Tendency Based?
Brady’s ability to diagnose defensive coverages and to effectively beat a team before the ball is snapped is one of the most important factors. Secondly, he’s been able to get rid of the ball quickly and accurately. Diagnosis is nothing without execution.
There’s also the ability of players like Edelman to quickly assess the open areas in the coverage, and their skill in creating separation from defenders. If receivers aren’t getting open, there will be nowhere for Brady or any other QB to go with the ball.
Lastly, a lot of the credit goes to offensive coordinators Charlie Weis and now Josh McDaniels. Both men have seemingly encouraged a focus on the slot receiver and passes up the seam to tight ends.
This has been a staple of the Patriots’ offense for years, and something tells me it won’t leave the team’s philosophy with Brady.
The Receivers Who Have the Best Chance to Keep it Going
Whether it is Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer delivering the passes in 2020, they will need capable receivers to make the job easier. Edelman is returning, but if we’re being honest, it is unclear how much longer he can remain at an elite level.
Edelman just turned 34 years old, and he was banged up through 2019. He also seemed to express a desire to follow his former teammates Brady and Rob Gronkowski to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Because of those factors, it wouldn’t shock me if Edelman wasn’t long for the Patriots moving forward.
If there is a young player on the team who could be in a positional take the torch, it could be an undrafted free agent out of Miami, Jeff Thomas. He is blessed with exceptional athleticism, great hands, and the kind of instincts that would suggest he can succeed working out of the slot. However, he did have some off-the-field issues at Miami that played a major role in him going undrafted.
The Patriots have taken their shots at players with imperfect backgrounds. Sometimes it has worked out and other times it hasn’t. If Thomas can reach his potential, he could be the next great Patriots slot WR.