The New England Patriots wide receivers are getting no respect from talent evaluators and NFL experts. Are the evaluations fair, and who can help to change the narrative?
Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey pulled no punches in issuing the Pats’ receivers a less-than-favorable preview.
Pro Football Focus Says Patriots WRs Rank No. 30
Per Linsey, the only two NFL teams with a worse group of receivers (pass-catching tight ends included) are the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins.
To perhaps make it sting a little more, the top-ranked receiving group, according to Linsey, is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers unit that now features Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and former Patriots great Rob Gronkowski.
It also doesn’t hurt that a guy named Tom Brady is throwing them the ball. Here’s what Linsey had to say about the Patriots’ receivers:
While many will point to Tom Brady’s numbers last season, the big problem with the Patriots’ offense was that they just didn’t have receivers who could separate downfield. Julian Edelman remains one of the more reliable slot options in the short and intermediate range, but Mohamed Sanu added very little after he was acquired by the Patriots midseason (57.1 overall grade post-trade) and N’Keal Harry’s rookie campaign was a disappointment headlined by an injury that sidelined him for a large portion of the season. The two tight ends New England picked up in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft should see playing time, given the lack of options in front of them on the depth chart, but neither is likely to really solve the issue as a rookie. The Patriots’ biggest hope for the year will be that Harry takes a big step forward in a healthy sophomore campaign.
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Who Can Change the Narrative?
Linsey was right to focus most of his attention on Harry. The Patriots drafted him in the first round in 2019. With that draft placement and his tremendous physical gifts come great expectations.
He showed some flashed, but the aforementioned injury seemed to derail what could have been a strong season. However, the early indications suggest Harry is positioned to be a threat in an offense that now has a new leader.
Other not-so-obvious options are the recently signed speedster Damiere Byrd, veteran Mohamed Sanu, and rookies Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Jeff Thomas, and Isaiah Zuber.
Byrd has some experience from his days with the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers, but he could get his best opportunity to contribute with the Patriots. If he can establish himself as a legitimate downfield threat, he could create a spot for himself.
The tight ends Asiasi and Keene will likely see different kinds of routes. Asiasi figures to get a chance to damage up the seams of defenses while Keene sees throws out of the backfield and in two-tight-end sets.
Don’t sleep on undrafted free agents Thomas and Zuber. Both men are gifted athletically and could be surprise contributors in the slot and downfield as field-stretching presences in the offense.