Phillip Dorsett's advantage in Patriots wideout battle? His big brain

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Phillip Dorsett's advantage in Patriots wideout battle? His big brain

FOXBORO — The much-maligned Patriots wide receiver group entered the preseason like swaggering Vince McMahon GIF last Thursday night in Detroit.

I was at the head of the maligner line because, simply, the NFL production from guys who’ve been in the league has been modest and the rest of the wideouts were newcomers.

But Thursday night against the Lions was an unqualified success as rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry jumped off the screen with their physicality, smoothness and hands. Eight different receivers had catches, from the quick and little Braxton Berrios to the long and silky Dontrelle Inman.

And even if the Lions DBs left a ton of cushion and weren’t interested in pushing, it was still an auspicious start.

“We got a lot of guys,” said wide receiver Phillip Dorsett when I copped to slamming the wideout crew. “It’s the National Football League, everybody can play. If you can’t play, you wouldn’t be here. We have a lot of different variety of guys, guys that can play inside and out and it’s competition. We’re making each other better every day.”

The variety is what’s intriguing. I’m generalizing, but the Patriots for a decade have had a sudden slot who opens things up for a mammoth tight end. The outside receiver is an accessory and the fourth receiver — Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Dorsett — is an assassin defenses lose track of.

This year is going to be different. One, because the mammoth tight end is gone. Two, because the outside receiver is going to be a bread-and-butter spot. And three, the outside receivers — Harry, Meyers and Julian Edelman if Berrios turns into a capable slot — have inside-outside ability.

Provided the Harrys, Meyers, Berriosssessesss, Inmans, etc. can be where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there when the throwing gets tough. That’s something Dorsett has proven.

“It’s advanced,” said Dorsett. “And that’s why a lot of guys can’t play here. It continuously evolves. You got guys who can play inside and out. If you’re versatile, you can play in this offense. It’s easier to play here when you learn it conceptually instead of learning one position. I think that’s what makes it hard for a lot of guys.”

“It’s tough,” he added. “It takes a long time to learn. You get in what you put in. If you take the time and study it and learn it, you’ll learn it. But if you put it to the side and come in and do what you’re told to do you won’t learn it. You gotta put the work in.”

I thought that part from Dorsett — that a receiver can’t come in and just do what he’s told as if it’s paint by numbers — was fascinating. Because it gets right to the meat of the issue of why some guys can do it and others — though talented — can’t. Often, Patriots receivers are charged with altering their route after the snap.

Inside leverage from the corner and the safety on the deep hash? That means the tight end’s route is going to be X and the slot is going to have to go Y yards downfield and break it back to Z? Right? And if it’s not right, the greatest quarterback in NFL history is going to throw to a spot that said receiver was supposed to be standing in and his interception is now a pick-6? Good times.  

Dorsett gets the concepts. Even though his output has been modest through two seasons with the team — 60 targets in 31 games, 44 catches, 290 yards and three touchdowns — he’s money when Brady goes to him (73.3 percent catch percentage).

His limitation, mainly, is his size. Despite being absurdly fast, he’s small and slightly built. He’s not an inventive after-the-catch runner, which is probably fine because he’s not built for the same punishment small but stocky guys like Troy Brown, Amendola and Edelman were and are.

Even though Brady went away from Dorsett once the Patriots traded for Josh Gordon in 2018, the quarterback is a huge fan.

“Whenever he’s been called on, he’s come in and made plays," Brady said last December. "Whenever the ball is in his hands, he’s dangerous. He’s great running with the ball. He’s a really crisp route-runner. He can play all the positions and just so impressed with how he’s handled everything this year. I really love playing with Phil.

"He’s done a great job for us.”

Why the love?

“I think it’s the way I go about my work, the way I take on the meetings and come on the practice field I think that’s what it is,” said Dorsett. “I appreciate him and I’m just glad he appreciates me.”

Dorsett is now in his third year with the Patriots and — after joining the team at the end of training camp in 2017 when he was traded by the Colts in exchange for Jacoby Brissett — only Edelman has a better grasp of what’s going on at the position than Dorsett does.

He could use that knowledge as leverage over the younger wideouts he’s competing with. He won’t.

“It doesn’t matter who I’m competing against, if you need help, I’m gonna help you,” said Dorsett. “No matter what. It’s all friendly competition because we’re all on the same team. We know we’re fighting for jobs but we’re on the same team and the one goal is to win. The guy who knows it the most, the guy who can play it the most, wins. But at the end of the day, I’m an easygoing guy but my goal here is to win.”

Dorsett, a first-round pick in 2015, is still a young player at 26. Just like the armada of young players who’ve come in this season, he too has room to grow. That’s part of the reason he re-signed here in March. He’s got a modest deal — $1.5M salary with another $500K if he makes the team — but he’s betting on himself a bit.

The quarterback he plays with also makes a difference.

“I understand what it is (to be playing with Brady),” he acknowledged. “It definitely is an honor. I loved him before I got here. He was my favorite quarterback. Now I’ve got a chance to know him, had a chance to play with him and it definitely is an honor.”

Click here for Phil Perry's latest 53-man Patriots roster projection>>>>>

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NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

The New England Patriots added a veteran running back to their roster on Monday.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, ex-Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans RB Lamar Miller reached an agreement with the Patriots on a one-year contract.

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Miller, 29, missed the entire 2019 campaign after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason. In 2018 with Houston, he rushed for 973 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Miller's most productive NFL season came in 2014 with Miami when he tallied 1,099 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

With Miller now in the fold, he joins a Patriots running back depth chart that also consists of Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris. Michel underwent foot surgery in May and was placed on the PUP list earlier this month.

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski leaving the New England Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't just send a shockwave through the NFL. It also altered the fantasy football landscape.

The fantasy values of both the Patriots and Bucs' skill players will be much different in 2020 following Brady and Gronk's departure from Foxboro. We've gone over what to expect from the go-to guys in New England's offense, so now it's time to go over Tampa's weapons.

The obvious benefactors -- at least one would think -- of Brady becoming a Buc are his primary wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. But will their numbers, along with Brady's, see a significant increase as expected, or should we pump the brakes on the hype?

And then there are the running back and tight end positions. Can Tampa's intriguing rookie running back take over the starting job? What can we really expect out of Gronk after a year off from football?

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Here are our projections for the Bucs' key offensive players with Brady and Gronk in the fold:

Tom Brady, QB
Projected Stats
: 4,300 yards, 29 TD, 9 INT
Projected Draft Round: 5-7

Brady is set up to be a really solid starting quarterback in fantasy football this year. That being said, those who expect Brady to put up elite numbers and draft him any higher than Round 5 are just asking to be disappointed. There are going to be some growing pains in Bruce Arians' offense. Sure, having his old pal Gronk around as a security blanket will help, but it's going to take time for the six-time Super Bowl champ to get comfortable down in Florida. There's little doubt Brady's numbers will be better in nearly every category now that he has some real weapons at his disposal, just make sure you don't reach when plenty of other QBs will do just fine in the middle rounds.

Ronald Jones II, RB
Projected Stats
: 650 yards, 4 TD
Projected Draft Round: 7-9

Jones was an OK flex play at points last season, but overall he simply hasn't been the running back Tampa Bay has hoped for these last few seasons. That led to the Bucs selecting Vanderbilt product Ke'Shawn Vaughn on Day 2 of this year's NFL Draft. Jones is the No. 1 guy heading into camp, though it doesn't look like that will be the case throughout the 2020 campaign. Wait until the mid-to-late rounds to take Jones, and maybe even consider passing entirely to take Vaughn if you're so inclined to take a Bucs RB.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB
Projected Stats
: 550 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

Speaking of Vaughn, he could be a major difference-maker for the Bucs in Brady's offense this season. He rushed for 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns for Vandy last season and was pretty effective through the air too, tallying 270 yards and a TD. It's always tough to count on a rookie, but it's worth the risk and the ceiling definitely seems to be higher with Vaughn than it is for Jones. The addition of McCoy, however, makes Vaughn's fantasy outlook a bit murky.

LeSean McCoy, RB
Projected Stats
: 400 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

It's impossible to now as of right now how the Bucs backfield is going to shape up in 2020. Although McCoy is a shell of what he once was, Bruce Arians definitely should find some sort of role for the 32-year-old veteran. The obvious question is whether that role will be more significant than Jones' or Vaughn's. If you're really that compelled to draft a Bucs running back, something I'd avoid entirely, it's a total toss-up and a matter of personal preference.

Mike Evans, WR
Projected Stats
: 75 receptions, 1,250 yards, 7 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

There's no question the Brady-to-Evans connection is going to excite people heading into the new season. However, I'm somewhat skeptical about how their playing styles will mesh. Brady isn't one to take many risks, and Evans made a living out of catching Jameis Winston's ridiculous jump-balls downfield. It really is impossible to know how that'll work itself out, but nonetheless we're believers in Evans' elite talent and project him as a solid WR1 again in 2020.

Chris Godwin, WR
Projected Stats
: 90 receptions, 1,350 yards, 10 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

Godwin was the breakout star of the 2019 fantasy football season as he put up absolutely ridiculous numbers with Jameis Winston under center. Now, the question is whether he can do it again with Brady. That may seem like a silly question, but again we have no clue what to expect from Brady in Arians' offense and how it will differ from what Godwin thrived in a year ago. Regardless, he definitely should be one of the first WRs off the board.

Rob Gronkowski, TE
Projected Stats
: 50 receptions, 700 yards, 5 TD
Projected Draft Round: 6-8

How do you make stat projections for a guy who took a year off from football to party in Miami and join the WWE? With injury concerns to boot, that makes drafting Gronk in fantasy football an extremely risky move. Obviously, with that high risk could come high reward as Tampa's offense has the potential to be one of the best in the entire NFL and Brady is going to look to Gronk early and often as a security blanket. Draft the former Pats tight end in the middle rounds, long after guys like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz are off the board.

O.J. Howard, TE
Projected Stats: 25 receptions, 450 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

The Bucs are going to run two-tight end sets in 2020, so don't think that Gronk's presence will limit Howard's production. In fact, it could even help it. Howard was a huge fantasy disappointment in 2019 and is out to prove he isn't a bust this year. There's also still a chance he gets traded to a TE-needy team and benefits from a change of scenery. Either way, you could do worse than Howard in the later rounds of your draft.