I can’t give one reason or another why N’Keal Harry has struggled. But Jakobi Meyers looks very comfortable in the Patriots' offense, and he’s playing fast.
That’s a big factor for young wide receivers in New England: How much do you understand the offensive scheme? Because when you’re thinking out there and trying to understand what the QB called in the huddle instead of just going out and letting your natural abilities take over, it actually slows you down.
Jakobi looks like he understands zone versus man coverage and how to set people up, particularly in man. For example, in the first series against the Jets, he sold the crossing route, got the cornerback to commit underneath, and then as soon as he got body position on him, he put his foot in the ground, stuck it, went back to the corner and gave Cam Newton a great opportunity to give him the ball.
It’s a unique skill set to understand -- particularly versus a man-to-man defense -- of how to release at the line and how to use body position. A clear indication of how a receiver is developing is whether he can beat those man-to-man coverages, and Jakobi is doing a great job of that right now.
His background as a quarterback is beneficial, as well. When you’ve played the quarterback position, you understand the little nuances of route running. For example, if you just run a crossing route in a straight line, then that defender can catch you. But if you use body position and “stem” him up the field a little bit, you change his directional course, and now you can create separation. Jakobi understands that.
I’m guessing he also has a better feel for how defenses are attacking him. As a quarterback, you’re always thinking big picture. So, when coaches are describing why certain plays are going in against certain coverages during the week, there’s a foundation there and an understanding why we’re running the play and what we’re trying to accomplish.
That knowledge gets him on the same page with the quarterback quicker. You can just look at a piece of paper and see a 5-yard stick route, but there are a lot of ways to run that stick route, and they're predicated on coverage: if there’s a man sitting outside, having that feel that it’s zone coverage and sitting down to give the quarterback a window to throw, and if it’s man, stemming a guy inside and setting him up using body position to create leverage.
All of those little nuances really play a role in a receiver getting open on a consistent basis. And if the quarterback trusts you and you’re in the right spot at the right time, then you’re going to get more opportunities.
You’ve seen it with Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch – you can go down the line. All of those guys were great route runners, and they had success because the Patriots love to run intermediate routes, where if you’re able to set somebody up on the inside or create a mismatch, the yards after the catch are tremendous.
The Patriots have always had those guys who weren’t the elite of the elite but were outstanding in their role. They understood that role as well as how to get open against certain coverages, and because of that, they were able to excel.
I don't know how the Patriots can keep Meyers off the field when Harry and Julian Edelman return based on the success and consistency he’s had. He’s stepped into his own role and has really taken advantage of his opportunity.