FOXBORO -- In the years since the Randy Moss era in New England, whenever the concept of "stretching the field" came up as it related to the Patriots, that often meant horizontally.
Now, after trading for Phillip Dorsett, it has become clear that Bill Belichick and the Patriots offense want the ability to stretch the field vertically as well.
- Brissett traded to Colts for WR Dorsett
- Special teamer Bademosi acquired from Lions
- Punt return role a priority for Belichick
- Last in line for waiver claims, Patriots could be inclined to deal
Of course, they could go vertical even before the team acquired Dorsett from the Colts in a deal that sent quarterback Jacoby Brissett to Indy. The Patriots spent big to pick up Brandin Cooks from the Saints, sending their 2017 first-rounder to New Orleans in the offseason. They also had versatile wideout Chris Hogan (who led the NFL in yards per catch in 2016) and big-play-walking Rob Gronkowski already in the fold.
But the addition of Dorsett, whose athletic profile was very similar to Cooks' coming out of the University of Miami in 2015, highlights the importance of being able to stress defenses from a variety of angles.
Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett had a lot of similarities in terms of their measurables at their respective combines.— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) September 2, 2017
Cooks: 5-10, 189, 30 3/4 arms, 9 5/8 hands, 4.33, 6.76 3C, 36 vert— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) September 2, 2017
Dorsett: 5-10, 185, 30 1/4 arms, 9 3/8 hands, 4.33, 6.70 3C, 37 vert
The short-to-intermediate passing game has long been Tom Brady's bread and butter, and even with Julian Edelman out for the season, passes in that range still figure to play an important role in the Patriots offense. Gronkowski, Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead will all require attention in that portion of the field.
But when teams clog the short middle of the field, as the Falcons did in Super Bowl LI, then Brady, Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense will need to hit them where they ain't -- on the outside. That's where players like Cooks and Dorsett can give opposing defenses headaches.
Since coming into the league as the 29th overall pick in 2015, Dorsett has 51 catches (14.8 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Here's how we saw Dorsett's skill set when he was set to enter the draft. In a word? Explosive.
Here are a few more observations to take away from the Brissett-for-Dorsett swap . . .
Patriots sacrifice depth at game's most important position: Jacoby Brissett improved significantly from Year 1 to Year 2, and on Thursday night against the Giants -- albeit Giants reserves -- he looked like a physically-gifted player whose teammates responded to him in the huddle. He was far from perfect -- he admitted to mistakes like missing "Mike" linebacker calls -- but he seemed to be showing progress, which had to intrigue the Colts. Without Brissett, the Patriots move forward with two quarterbacks, freeing up a roster spot that can be filled by someone who won't be a weekly inactive. The Patriots have age (Brady is 40) and contract situations (Jimmy Garoppolo is scheduled to hit free agency after this season) at the position, but perhaps they feel confident in their future at that spot to part ways with a young, cost-effective option like Brissett.
Unclear if Dorsett can factor in as a punt-return option: Dorsett has just two career punt-returns as a pro. He's returned one kickoff. His college experience in those roles is more significant (he returned 25 punts and 25 kicks at Miami), but he many have to earn the trust of the Patriots coaching staff before he's given one (or both) of those roles in New England. Bill Belichick said on Friday that having a sure-handed return man is like having a dependable long-snapper; the player may only touch the ball a handful of times, but if something goes awry when he does, it could cost the team a game.
Added depth key when factoring in Mitchell health: Second-year Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell was on the practice field Saturday, but he tweaked his knee during New England's second preseason game of the summer in Houston, and he missed the following week of practice as well as the third preseason game in Detroit. Add that to the time Mitchell missed early in training camp, and he spent a large chunk of the summer sidelined. With Edelman out, the Patriots depth chart features Cooks, Hogan, Amendola, Mitchell and now Dorsett. Should Mitchell -- or Amendola, who missed four regular-season games last year -- be forced to sit out for any stretch of time, Dorsett could find himself getting important snaps. Dorsett has dealt with injuries of his own as a member of the Colts.
From Indy Star reporter Stephen Holder:
One thing I will say on Dorsett: you could tell Pagano was getting annoyed w his muscle strains and pulls. Missed too much practice time.— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) September 2, 2017