This is part three of a position by position roster preview ahead of Patriots training camp.
Roster locks: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry
Strong chance to make the roster: Phillip Dorsett
On the bubble: Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson
Suspended/Injured: Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon
Undrafted rookies: Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski
Edelman – the reigning Super Bowl MVP came in at number two on my “ten most important Patriots” list behind quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots averaged a full yard per play more with Edelman on the field last season compared to the four games he missed due to suspension, and he averaged a ridiculous 3.5 yards per route run out of the slot in the 2018 postseason. Without Gronk, Edelman is now the clear number one receiver in the Patriots offense.
Harry – the Patriots selected a wide receiver in the first round for the first time since 1996 when they picked Harry 32nd overall in April. In my time covering the team, Harry has the highest expectations of any Patriots first-round pick, and the team needs him to have a strong rookie campaign. Although concerns about separation and route running are legit, Harry has an ideal size-speed combination coupled with excellent college production. The Arizona State product tore up the Pac-12 with contested catches and his unique yards after catch abilities. Now, the Patriots need him to tear up the NFL.
Dorsett – Last season, 69 percent of Dorsett’s targets resulted in a successful play for the offense ranking behind only Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, according to Sports Info Solutions (min. 35 targets). In the postseason, Dorsett caught two huge touchdowns, and all five of his receptions went for first downs. After Josh Gordon left the team, we saw his speed become a factor on designed shot plays from just outside the red zone. Although he did some good things, Dorsett couldn’t pass Chris Hogan on the depth chart in 2018, which makes you think that his flashes in games were too sporadic in practice to garner more playing time. This season, he’s in a good position to claim the WR3 spot with a strong camp.
Berrios – a redshirt rookie, Berrios had a strong spring as one of the standouts at minicamp. He has refined his route breaks so now his jitterbug quickness translates to separation, but we’ll have to see if that continues once they put the pads on and defenders can be more physical with him. In a perfect world, Berrios would take on a similar role to a young Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola as a backup slot receiver and return man.
Harris – another minicamp standout, Harris’s smooth athleticism and ball skills were apparent during the three days of practice in June. He moved all over the formation and was even involved in some of the Patriots’ gadget plays. Harris doesn’t have much NFL production to speak of, but he had flashes in Washington and was an excellent practice player according to people down there. Based on early returns, Harris is going to make the team.
Inman – Inman’s minicamp was underwhelming compared to Harry, Berrios and Harris, but he has the best track record in the NFL, at least so far. Inman didn’t catch any passes from Tom Brady in June, but things could change quickly in August. Inman is a polished route runner that has a great understanding for attacking leverages and setting up defensive backs at the top of routes. He’s like the guy at the YMCA that torches everyone on the basketball court with his old-school style. I could see that showing up more in padded practices than minicamp where the great athletes shine.
Biggest question: will we see Demaryius Thomas or Josh Gordon this season?
The Patriots wide receiver position has boom or bust written all over it, and that directly relates to the status of Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon. Last season, Gordon posted the third-best net yards over average in the NFL, and the highest by any receiver in Tom Brady’s career (11.5, min. 65 targets). He was a big-play machine for the Pats, but the off-field issues continue to haunt him. As for Thomas, he is rehabbing an Achilles injury that he suffered last December and lost a lot of his signature explosiveness even before the injury. Does Thomas have anything left? Will Gordon get and be able to stay on the field? Things change dramatically if even one of those two can contribute this season.