Letting Jakobi Meyers find a new home in free agency looked like a curious decision by the New England Patriots, but Bill Belichick acquired a “more dynamic” replacement.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is the “most dangerous new addition” for the Patriots, according to Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox. He chose the wide receiver who won Super Bowl LVII with the Kansas City Chiefs last season because “Smith-Schuster is closer to being a true No. 1 receiver for New England.”
Meyers was the de facto top target in a pedestrian Pats’ passing game in 2022, before he signed with the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason. Although Meyers’ toughness and sure hands will be missed, Knox detailed how “Smith-Schuster can also play on the perimeter or in the slot, which will provide some options for new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and the Patriots passing attack.”
Having a wideout with Smith-Schuster’s experience and versatility lead a new-look passing attack should help quarterback Mac Jones make the Patriots more expansive offensively.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Can Be Top Target for Mac Jones
Jones is only going to progress as a passer if he has a receiver he can trust to get open quickly and make yards after the catch. Fortunately, both of those things aptly describe Smith-Schuster’s game.
The 26-year-old amassed 465 of his 933 yards for the Chiefs after the catch in 2022, per Pro Football Reference. Deceptive quickness and subtle moves help Smith-Schuster thrive once he gets the ball into his hands, with Taylor Kyles of Patriots on CLNS highlighting some of the receiver’s best YAC plays from last season.
As Kyles pointed out, Meyers wasn’t always an optimum fit to play in the slot, but Smith-Schuster has often produced his best work from the inside. Attacking between the numbers has been the hallmark of the Pats’ passing game ever since Belichick became head coach in 2000 and the inside emphasis will continue with Smith-Schuster in the lineup.
It will also help if returning offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien adds a much-needed schematic riff to the formula.
Bill O’Brien Needs to Add Something New to Pats’ Offense
O’Brien can help expand the playbook by including more RPO concepts. It’s something he called often as head coach of the Houston Texans in 2019, when quarterback Deshaun Watson executed 65 RPOs, per Pro Football Reference. By contrast, Jones has run just 51 RPOs during two seasons in New England.
Smith-Schuster got used to being part of RPO designs during his lone season with the Chiefs. He was able to win running slants out of the concept, like this one against the Buffalo Bills, highlighted by Nick Jacobs of KSHB 41 News.
Using more plays like this can give Jones easier reads and opportunities to get the ball out of his hands sooner. Smith-Schuster will be an important part of that plan, but he’ll have some competition for “most dangerous” newcomer to Jones’ revamped supporting cast.
Fellow Newcomer Can Stake Claim as ‘Most Dangerous’
Belichick knew what he was getting when he signed Mike Gesicki from AFC East rivals the Miami Dolphins. The tight end snagged 14 catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns during games against the Pats, per StatMuse, including this game-winner at Gillette Stadium in 2019.
While those numbers are hardly mind-blowing, Gesicki consistently found a way to get open in tough moments for the Dolphins. He was a tone-setter for the Miami air attack, making 25 of his 32 receptions for 2022 on first and second downs, according to ESPN.
Those catches amounted to 314 yards and gave Dolphins’ QBs easy throws for big gains, exactly what Jones needs to take his game up a level. Gesicki will be a more active receiver than fellow tight end Hunter Henry, and the former second-round pick has a great chance to emerge as Jones’ go-to target.
Ideally, Belichick and O’Brien are counting on Gesicki and Smith-Schuster to form the kind of reliable and productive double act capable of helping Jones become a more confident signal-caller. If the plan works, the Patriots will confound the doubters and pose a major threat in a stacked division.