Patriots ‘Electric’ Rookie Tabbed for Niche Role in Alex Van Pelt’s Offense

Ja'Lynn Polk

Getty An "electric" New England Patriots rookie is expected to fill a niche role in coordinator Alex Van Pelt's offense.

Alex Van Pelt already has a wide receiver who’s a “perfect fit” for a niche role in his offense for the New England Patriots. Rookie Ja’Lynn Polk, the team’s second-round pick in the 2024 NFL draft, can replicate what Donovan Peoples-Jones did for Van Pelt with the Cleveland Browns.

That’s a prediction from Taylor Kyles of Patriots on CLNS. He thinks how Peoples-Jones played when Van Pelt was offensive coordinator in Cleveland is the template for how the Pats might deploy Polk.

Kyles noted that “Like Polk at Washington, Donovan Peoples-Jones handled most of the dirty work in Cleveland’s scheme. Though primarily used as a Z receiver, he lined up at multiple spots and was consistently near the action.”

Some of People-Jones’ best work came as a blocker. It’s a niche assignment for a wideout, but Kyles pointed out how “New England’s receiver room is full of high-effort blockers, but Polk may be the best of the bunch. Since he and Peoples-Jones have handled similar assignments, the rookie seems like a perfect fit to assume that role in the Patriots’ new offense.”

There are other similarities between Peoples-Jones and the first-year pass-catcher who has been dubbed potentially “electric” by Bleacher Report’s Ryan Fowler. He thinks “Polk, a nuanced route-runner with sensational hands, has a clear path to a team-high target share thanks to the Patriots’ average-at-best receiving core.”

It’s high praise for a receiver who’s already been compared to an All-Pro.

Ja’Lynn Polk Set to Make Key Concepts Work for Alex Van Pelt

Kyles also referenced how Polk and Peoples-Jones “ran very similar route trees.” Going a little deeper by citing statistics from Pro Football Focus, Kyles revealed Polk ran 17 outs at Washington from 2022-23, the same number Peoples-Jones ran for the Browns.

While that number is identical, Kyles detailed the different way Polk is likely to combine with returning Pats’ quarterback Jacoby Brissett: “When Peoples-Jones played with now-Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett in Cleveland, the two thrived on go and in routes. These targets typically came in obvious pass situations with Peoples-Jones out wide, often from the X spot.”

There are differences in how Polk attacked coverage with the Huskies last season. Rather than vertical routes, Kyles highlighted how Polk usually preferred crossing patterns.

Kyles believes “Polk could certainly benefit from free releases early in his career, which will help minimize the increased press coverage he’ll face as a pro. That said, he has the tools to slide into Peoples-Jones’ old role and even build on it with time.”

Building on what Peoples-Jones did will be easier if Polk blocks as effectively as the four-year pro did for Van Pelt. Peoples-Jones “was often used at the point of attack and asked to do dirty work like blocking safeties, linebackers, and even defensive linemen,” per Kyles.

Doing the same shouldn’t be a problem for Polk. Not when he often operated “as a pseudo-H-back on some plays” in college.

Experience in a role in the backfield makes sense of comparisons between Polk and a wideout who’s one of the most high profile and multi-faceted in the NFL.

Patriots ‘Electric’ Rookie Already Touted for Big Things

Kyles isn’t the only writer predicting big things for the 37th prospect selected this year. Shortly after he was drafted, Polk was likened to San Francisco 49ers’ star Deebo Samuel by Hall of Fame defensive back Ronde Barber.

Barber told The 33rd Team, “there’s a lot of talk in NFL circles about finding a Deebo-like receiver, Deebo Samuel, that is, and this guy (Polk) has little bit more than a guy like Malachi Corley or Xavier Legette, in terms of his total package. So I like him for teams that are looking for that role.”

It’s an apt comparison since Samuel has often doubled up as a running back for the 49ers. Polk didn’t run often during his collegiate days, but he still averaged 9.4 yards a carry, per Sports Reference.

Barber’s comparison goes deeper. More about Samuel’s physical style and after-the-catch skills. The latter trait is a key part of Polk’s game.

This middle screen, highlighted by The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Devin Jackson, is the type of long handoff that’s helped Samuel earn All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.

The Patriots already have a Samuel type, in the form of his ex-Niners teammate Kendrick Bourne. Adding Polk to the mix gives a rebuilding offense another QB-friendly target for Brissett and third-overall pick Drake Maye.

Both passers figure to play this season. Both are sure to rely on Polk as the campaign progresses.

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