During the New England Patriots‘ 24-3 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night, Hall-of-Famer and Dallas Cowboys great Troy Aikman, who was providing color commentary for NFL Network made a harsh, but albeit truthful assessment of the team’s wide receiver group.
Aikman said, “every one of them (the Patriots wide receivers) are playing a spot above where they should be.” Essentially, he means, Jakobi Meyers, who has established himself as the team’s No. 1 receiver, is at best a No. 2, Damiere Byrd is at best a No. 3, and so on down the line.
Patriots players and fans may not like what Aikman said, but find me someone who can deliver a sensible argument that proves him wrong.
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While we have seen some flashes over the past two weeks, one man’s underachievement and another man’s failures are the reason for this miscasting across the unit.
The reason Meyers is playing as a No. 1 receiver is that the Patriots’ No. 1 pick from 2019, N’Keal Harry hasn’t yet ascended to that role. One could argue Julian Edelman’s knee injury and COVID-19 situation are also playing a part. However, Edelman is 34 years old and has been primarily a slot receiver his entire career. Harry was drafted with the 32nd pick overall to provide a dominant outside presence, and that just hasn’t happened yet.
Harry has struggled to stay healthy. When he has been on the field, gaining separation and crisp route running have only occurred intermittently. Harry is beginning to show some flashes of becoming the kind of threat the Patriots hoped he become. He had a touchdown catch during the 45-0 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13, and he also made some nice receptions in the loss to the Rams.
There is hope he will continue to build on that success. If he steps up and becomes a threat that must be accounted for on each play, it will elevate the entire receiver group and the passing game.
Bill Belichick is getting as much criticism this year as he probably has seen or heard in his 20-year tenure with the Patriots. Everything from his decision to stick with Cam Newton as the quarterback to his draft history has been targeted.
The latter is an unmistakable flaw, and there really is no other way to look at it.
Belichick has failed miserably to draft players at the skill positions and the wide receiver group offers his most glaring weaknesses. Harry’s underachievement has been augmented by Belichick’s inability to find quality players at the position on a whole. Take a look at the graphic NFL Network ran during Thursday night’s game. It completely illustrates Belichick’s futility in this area.
Harry’s development into a star should not have such a far-reaching impact on the entire offense. It has because Belichick has repeatedly failed to hit on his draft picks, trades, and free-agent signings at the position over the past 8 years.
Any time a first-round pick doesn’t pan out or is slow to develop, it will be costly. However, Belichick’s inability to find any real talent at receiver has made the Harry situation worse. At the end of the day, this is the biggest reason Meyers and Co. are playing a spot above where their talent would suggest.
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