When the Patriots waived Bruce Ellington with an injury designation on Wednesday, it put the picture at the receiver spot in New England back into focus.
Julian Edelman and first-round pick N'Keal Harry are clear locks to make the roster. Phillip Dorsett performed consistently when given an opportunity in 2018 and feels like the best bet to be the No. 3 for the Patriots when September rolls around.
After that? Question marks abound.
Free-agent signee Maurice Harris brings with him size and a reputation as a diligent worker established in Washington. Demaryius Thomas is a big-name veteran who has to get back healthy from a torn ACL at 31 years old before he can be counted upon. Braxton Berrios was a sixth-round choice last year who red-shirted as a rookie. Damoun Patterson got some experience on New England's practice squad in 2018 and will be looking to crack the active roster.
Then there are three undrafted rookies who could shake things up at the position for Bill Belichick. For 15 years, at least one undrafted player has made the active roster in New England. Might Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis or Xavier Ubosi keep the streak alive?
Ubosi has impressive size (6-3, 215 pounds) and athleticism (4.50 40-yard dash, 10-foot-5 broad jump at his pro day), and was a big-play machine for Alabama-Birmingham (35 catches, 837 yards, eight touchdowns) last season. If the Patriots want an outside-the-numbers option, Ubosi has intriguing traits.
Davis (5-9, 185 pounds) looks like a classic slot for the Patriots. Catching passes from fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham at Auburn, Davis showed an ability to accelerate quickly, break tackles, and weave in and out of traffic in the short area of the field. If the Patriots want someone to challenge Berrios inside, Davis could be the guy. Like Berrios, Davis also has punt-return experience (22 returns in 2018) which could increase his value at One Patriot Place.
Then there's Meyers, who in some ways is the most interesting of the UDFA bunch. He played in the slot at NC State even though he looks more like an "X" at 6-2, 203 pounds. He joined the Wolfpack in 2015 as a quarterback, changed positions in 2016 and has been on an upward trajectory ever since. He caught 63 passes in 2017, and last year he upped that number to 92 for 1,047 yards and four scores. ACC coaches named him first-team all-conference for his efforts, and he was a "no-brainer" add to the Senior Bowl, according to executive director Jim Nagy.
When Nagy spoke to us for "The Next Pats Podcast", he said he couldn't believe that Meyers wasn't drafted.
"I was shocked, frankly," said Nagy, who worked for the Patriots for seven years as a scout.
"Jakobi is a really good player. Kelvin Harmon was their other [receiver who] got picked in the sixth round. In my mind, Jakobi was a better player. The way I'll frame it for you is, for the Senior Bowl . . . we brought 114 to the game so those last spots you're really making some tough decisions on the last three or four receiver spots. 'Who do we bring?'
"Jakobi was a no-brainer. He really was. I never hesitated thinking we should bring Jakobi to this game. It really surprised me [he wasn't drafted]. That's a heckuva free-agent get."
Nagy said that one of the first things to flash on Meyers' tape at NC State was the fact that he thought his way through plays as a quarterback might. His background as a passer helps him understand coverages and how to adjust routes accordingly.
"A lot of times," Nagy said, "when you do college receivers, and I know I've heard coach Belichick comment about it publicly over the last few months here, and we used to get preached this when I worked there: Projecting college receivers is one of the hardest positions because the college passing game is so different.
"All those routes are locked. Those kids don't have to read coverage. But that's the first thing you see in Jakobi Meyers. They played him in the slot. He's not a typical Patriots slot. They like the undersized quicker-than-fast guys who can get in and out of cuts. But he did play in the slot for NC State. And he's got a really nice feel for coverage and adjusting stuff when he has to. He's got a savvy about him. That's the first thing that jumps out at you."
Meyers certainly has the size to play outside and could be viewed as a versatile piece in the Patriots offense. And though it may not be quite at the level N'Keal Harry showed during his time at Arizona State, Meyers has proven he's no slouch when it comes to making plays in contested situations or over the middle.
"Toughness is not a question for a guy being a former quarterback," Nagy said. "He does not care if he gets hit. He can come to the ground and secure the catch. Really strong hands. Again, I just can't believe how that guy could go undrafted what he put on tape this year for NC State...He's a guy that I definitely think could make that 53-man roster coming out of camp."
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