Is Troy Brown the Godfather of Slot? Around here he is. And as such, the Patriots wide receivers coach has special insight and probably takes a special pride in any player following in his one-size-too-small cleats.
(Troy once told me he wore cleats that were too small to increase his foot speed. He’d cut a slit near his big toe to provide some breathing room).
Brown should take pride in The Slot That Troy Built.
From 2000 to 2019, that position has been mainly staffed by four men. Brown was there from 2000 through 2006 and caught 420 passes for 4,539 yards. Wes Welker came next and, from 2007 to 2012, caught 672 for 7,459. Danny Amendola was brought in to replace Welker. From 2013 to 2017, he caught 230 for 2,383, many of those from the slot but some in other spots. The same goes for Julian Edelman whom from 2013 to 2019 caught 530 balls for 5,793, a goodly number of those from the slot.
In 20 seasons, those men rolled up 1,852 catches for 20,174 yards. In short, it’s not just the most important position in the Patriots passing offense (aside from quarterback), it may be THE most important position. The Patriots have lived without Pro Bowl-level X-receivers and done fine. They managed OK in the aughts with just decent tight end play. But generally, as the slot goes, so goes the Patriots fortunes.
And even post-Brady, we saw last season how vital the slot remains. Because following in the choppy footsteps of Brown, Welker, Amendola and Edelman, it came clear by the end of the year that Jakobi Meyers is the Patriots next slot up.
Meyers may not look like his predecessors. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds he’s longer and slighter than all of them. But there are a few subtle similarities that matter more than stature. Short-area quickness. Technical acumen. An understanding of what a quarterback sees because he came up – like Edelman – as a quarterback. And, Brown says, work ethic.
“I think he just sat back and he watched Julian do it for the last two or three years,” Brown said this week. “Took down some notes and he incorporated it into his game. It took a lot of hard work for him to get to a point where he felt comfortable going in there to work it. He earned the right to play in there the last couple years and now he's gotta fight for a spot to go out there and do it again this year. But that's really all he did. He just sat back and he watched. He studied tape. He came out here and did it against the air. Did it against players.”
And, last year, did it against opponents. In an offense with no tight end threat and a quarterback who labored to make use of third-down back extraordinaire James White, Meyers was the hub of Cam Newton’s passing attention.
After seeing just one target in the first five games (Meyers was buried behind Edelman, Damiere Byrd and N’Keal Harry on the depth chart) Meyers amassed 59 catches for 729 yards over the final 11 games. That’s an average of 5.3 catches and 65.6 yards per game. Over a 16-game season it’s 90 catches for 1,049.6 yards.
It’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment and it’s a huge reason why – even though the team went on a buying spree for pass catchers in free agency – Meyers would still be a reasonable bet to lead the team in targets, catches and yards.
Brown was asked about Meyers’ longer body and why he’s able to make it work in the slot where stubbier guys usually rule.
“There are different body types that can do different things,” Brown explained. “Sometimes you look at guys -- look at Randy Moss back in the day. Everybody thought he wasn't a real quick guy but he was quick when he was younger. He had some quicks. He was shifty and able to catch and run with the ball which you didn't see a lot of big guys that were able to do that, but he was.
“Jakobi is obviously not as fast as Randy, but he's got some shiftiness to him,” Brown pointed out. “He's got some quickness. He played some baseball. I guess he played a little basketball in high school and stuff. So he's got some different skill sets that allowed him to be able to come out here and learn the way that Jules did things and guys before him did things He worked his butt off to get to the point where it is. Like I said earlier, I'm telling you, it wasn't pretty. It wasn't pretty for him. But he got to a point where he helped us win some games last year and the year before so that's always a plus."
I asked Brown what he meant by “not pretty”?
“Just can't get open,” he said. “That's an ugly day for any receiver. But he's a tough guy. He doesn't say a whole lot, he's quiet, he sits back and he takes it all in.”
Meyers took in a whole lot of throws on an understaffed offense last year. With more talent around him, he may have even more room to operate which might mean even more production from the slot. Meyers may not have been part of the slot succession plan when the Patriots signed him out of NC State. But he’s slotted in nicely anyway.