Patriots

Patriots Roster Reset: N'Keal Harry's improvement in Year 2 key to WR group

Patriots Roster Reset: N'Keal Harry's improvement in Year 2 key to WR group

The Patriots were desperate for receiver help in 2019.

They held onto Josh Gordon. They selected a wideout in the first round for the first time in Bill Belichick's tenure as head coach. They signed Antonio Brown. They traded a second-round pick mid-season to add a veteran with a year and a half left on his deal.

Very little stuck.

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With a loaded receiver class in this year's draft, it was a given they'd invest at the position again . . . right? They added four undrafted wideouts, but none went to New England on draft weekend.

Instead, it's clear the Patriots will rely on seeing improvement from that 2019 first-rounder, N'Keal Harry, and from the vet who cost a second-rounder, Mohamed Sanu.

"I'm sure all our young players will improve in year two," Belichick said after the draft. "Got a first-round pick on N'Keal last year, second-round pick on Sanu. That was really off this draft. Obviously have Julian [Edelman] and a number of other young players. I think that will be a very good group.

"There's a lot of different ways and times to build your team. The draft is one of them. As I mentioned, whether it's Sanu or free agents signing like [Damiere] Byrd, whatever the case might be, there's multiple ways to build your roster, and this is one of them."

Here's how the Patriots depth chart at receiver is looking as things stand right now.

LOCK ‘EM IN

This group could end up being six or seven players deep, and yet the number of true locks currently on the roster? Two: Julian Edelman and N'Keal Harry.

Mohamed Sanu was mentioned by Bill Belichick earlier this offseason as being the team's second-round pick this year since that's what they traded away to land him. But the reality is he's a wideout in his 30s, coming off offseason ankle surgery, making $6.5 million on the salary cap. It'd be a second-round pick wasted if the Patriots ended up releasing Sanu — maybe they could pick up some value for him if they found a trade partner — but they were desperate for receiving help when they acquired him last season. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

That pick is now a sunk cost. If there's a younger player on the roster the Patriots feel could provide what Sanu does at a lower price, then it would not come as an overwhelming surprise if the Patriots moved on.

Matthew Slater, if you want to include him in this group, is a lock as a special-teams captain. The 34-year-old is coming off one of his best seasons and will provide the same steady leadership he has for a decade as the team navigates a season without Tom Brady.

ON THE BUBBLE

Let's start with the players from last year's roster who will look to reclaim roles after the Patriots re-tooled the back end of the depth chart this offseason.

Jakobi Meyers showed real chemistry with Jarrett Stidham when the two then-rookies embarked on their first pro preseason together. That could help him carve out a role as a depth piece, but his place on the 53-man roster can't be considered a sure thing.

Same goes for Gunner Olszewski. He made the club as a reserve wideout and the No. 1 punt returner before landing on IR last season.The team added a variety of punt-return options offseason — including second-round pick Kyle Dugger — which adds to the challenge Olszewski faces in making the roster.

Damiere Byrd is a 5-foot-9, 180-pound speedster who could bring a dynamic vertical element to the Patriots passing game if given the opportunity. He received $600,000 guaranteed to sign, according to the Boston Globe, which is more than some of the names you'll see under our "Long Shots" section, but it doesn't exactly guarantee him a roster spot.

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LONG SHOTS

Have to include all four undrafted rookies on this list just by the nature of their arrival to the Patriots.

Isaiah Zuber from Mississippi State pulled in the most guaranteed money among Patriots undrafted wideouts this year with $100,000. Jeff Thomas of Miami might be the most talented of the group, but he went undrafted after running into issues with two separate coaching staffs in college. Sean Riley — who like Zuber and Thomas could end up competing for a punt-return role — is an undersized interior option at 5-foot-8, 178 pounds out of Syracuse.

Auburn's Will Hastings is the player from this group we like as the favorite to make the roster at the moment. He lit up his pro day (one of the few this year that wasn't canceled) with elite-level agility numbers. He also has a built-in rapport with Stidham after their time together as Tigers teammates. Marqise Lee has to be included here after dealing with injury and being robbed of almost two full seasons. He did not play in 2018 and in 2019 he had just three catches in six games played.

Devin Ross and Quincy Adeboyejo, both of whom spent time on the Patriots practice squad last year, should be considered long shots as well.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

Jeff Thomas has talent. He's an NFL-caliber athlete. Listed at 5-foot-10, 174 pounds, he was a four-star high school recruit coming out of East St. Louis, Illinois — the No. 2 recruit in the state behind only edge defender A.J. Epenesa — and had offers from Alabama and Ohio State. His speed is instantaneous at the line of scrimmage and when he has the ball in his hands, he's able to hit another gear and pull away from defenders nearby.

His maturity level, meanwhile, has been an issue for him. He was dismissed from the Miami program by Mark Richt, who said at the time, "We have high standards for excellence, for conduct and for the commitment to the team for all of the young men who wear our uniform, and we will not waver from those standards." When a new coaching staff took over in 2019, he was welcomed back to the program . . . then suspended in October for two games for violating team rules.

If he can get with the Patriots program and adhere to everything they ask him to do, he has a real shot to make the roster and provide the team with an electric play-maker. But given his history, that's a sizable "if."

X-FACTOR

Marqise Lee told reporters earlier this month that he'd been working with Mick Lombardi as he gets caught up on the Patriots offense, and it sounded as though Lombardi had been handed the receiver coach's gig. There's been no official announcement by the team in terms of Lombardi's title, but if he has the receivers coach job then that's three in three years in New England. (Joe Judge, now head coach of the Giants, replaced Chad O'Shea as Patriots wideouts coach in 2019.)

Someone like Julian Edelman shouldn't be too severely impacted by the transition. But in a room that includes so much youth — including some intriguing undrafted rookies and the team's 2019 first-round pick — it'll be interesting to see how those players develop. Lombardi, son of former Patriots assistant Mike Lombardi, was most recently the assistant quarterbacks coach in New England. That's a title Lombardi held previously with the Jets.

Why Stephon Gilmore thinks Cam Newton was 'great signing' for Patriots

Why Stephon Gilmore thinks Cam Newton was 'great signing' for Patriots

If you want to know how talented Cam Newton is, just ask the players tasked with defending him.

Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore was one of those players before Newton signed a one-year contract last week to become his New England teammate. When asked what he thought of the Patriots signing Newton, Gilmore seemed relieved he wouldn't have to deal with the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback on another team.

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"It was a great signing," Gilmore told host Bakari Sellers on The Ringer's "The Bakari Sellers Podcast." "I think Cam's very hungry. I've always been a Cam fan. I think he's hard to prepare against and he has a great opportunity to compete for a starting job. I'm looking forward to seeing him on our team."

What makes Newton so difficult to prepare against? Gilmore mentioned there aren't many signal-callers who boast the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback's combination of size, strength and running ability.

"I think he's his own unique player," Gilmore said. "Obviously he can run the ball, he can throw it. Anytime you can do both of those things, it's hard to get ready for a certain thing, so he always keeps you off guard.

"He's very hungry this year. I think he's healthy now, so I'm just looking forward to him helping our team out."

Newton went unsigned for months after the Carolina Panthers released him in March due to apparent concerns about shoulder and foot injuries that caused him to miss 16 games over the last two seasons. But the 31-year-old already has been working out with his new Patriots wide receivers and seems eager to prove his doubters wrong this season.

As for Gilmore: The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year is putting in the work as he prepares to deal with Newton in practices this season.

Patrick Mahomes sets sights on Tom Brady's Patriots Super Bowl record

Patrick Mahomes sets sights on Tom Brady's Patriots Super Bowl record

Not one; not two; not three...

Patrick Mahomes guided the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl title in just his third NFL season and was rewarded this offseason with the richest contract in North American sports, a 10-year deal worth a total of more than $500 million.

The Chiefs quarterback has lofty goals for those next 10 years -- one of which includes catching the GOAT.

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During an interview with ESPN over the weekend from the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament, Mahomes admitted he has his sights set on matching Tom Brady's six Super Bowl championships with the New England Patriots, the most of any player in NFL history.

“I don’t know if there is a number," Mahomes told ESPN's Nicole Briscoe. "Obviously, you try and chase greatness and Tom has six. I'm going to try and do whatever I can to get to that number."

"I understand how hard that is, how it was a one-of-a-kind thing for Tom to be able to get to nine Super Bowls and win six of them. I'm just going to go about the process every single day of trying to make myself better and do whatever I can to make the Kansas City Chiefs better."

The 24-year-old Mahomes technically is on pace with Brady: The current Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB won his first title with New England at age 24. That said, Brady didn't win his sixth championship until his 19th NFL season at age 41, and that was while playing for the greatest coach in NFL history on arguably the greatest modern dynasty in professional sports.

Mahomes might as well set lofty goals, though: He's already won NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards and is the league's best quarterback on a Chiefs team returning much of its Super Bowl roster.

Mahomes has a very long way to go to reach Brady's level of success, but his comments are another reminder that the ex-Patriots QB has set the standard for greatness.

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