We continue our series of Patriots' post-mini-camp, pre-training camp position-by-position assessments: Current situation, spots available, who’s vying for those spots. Today, wide receiver:
Boy, there's a lot to get to here. The receiver spot has seen almost as much turnover as any other position on the roster. Offensive line, running back and corner all have new faces, but at wideout, the Patriots lost two of their top three producers from 2017. The departures of Brandin Cooks (traded to the Rams) and Danny Amendola (signed by the Dolphins) meant the departure of more than 1,600 snaps, more than 1,700 yards and more than 120 catches from last season. The Patriots have tried to address those losses by adding in bulk: Jordan Matthews was signed as a free agent; Cordarrelle Patterson was acquired in a swap of Day 3 picks; Kenny Britt had an option picked up in March; and Braxton Berrios, a slot receiver from Miami, was drafted in the sixth round. Phillip Dorsett is back for his second season (and his first full offseason with the team), while 2017 practice-squadders Riley McCarron and Cody Hollister return as well. Malcolm Mitchell is back on the roster, though he's been limited in OTAs after missing all of last season due to a knee injury, and status for 2018 is unclear. Of course, Chris Hogan (439 yards, five touchdowns in nine games last year) will be back, as will Julian Edelman -- though Edelman is facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy and could miss the first four games of the regular season if he loses his appeal. Matthew Slater is listed as a receiver, but he's a special-teamer who will rarely chip in offensively.
The Patriots have generally held onto six receivers in recent years -- five plus Slater. Depending on the outlook at other positions, they could potentially carry one more when the roster is trimmed to 53 for Week 1 of the regular season. But they may not need to find space for an additional receiver. Edelman's suspension, if it holds, would mean that he would not count against the roster for the first four weeks of the season. That could open up a spot for one of his teammates at the end of camp. Additionally, if someone ends up on the physically unable to perform list - both Mitchell and Britt have dealt with injuries this spring - that's another way to keep a pass-catcher in-house without having him count against the roster. When it comes to true locks to be in the building for 2018, there are three by my count: Edelman, Hogan and Slater.
WHO'S DOING WHAT
By that math, that leaves eight players vying for three spots if the Patriots roll with six receivers. (Again, the Patriots will have an additional open spot if Edelman is suspended, but let's assume we're talking about Week 5 on.) How the Patriots determine who fills those openings could depend on the types of receivers they want. They have all shapes, sizes and experience levels represented in Chad O'Shea's room at the moment. Dorsett is an outside-the-numbers burner, who can stretch the field and effectively downfield block when asked. If it's height and catch radius the Patriots are looking for, Britt would be the choice. His athleticism packaged in a 6-foot-3, 223-pound frame as an "X" receiver is enticing - and has been since he was taken in the first round in 2009 - but he suffered an injury during mini-camp. We'll have to track his progress into the summer. Mitchell, if healthy, could also serve as that classic "X," as he demonstrated a strong connection with Brady along the boundary in his productive rookie season in 2016. Patterson provides some measure of Britt and Dorsett's two greatest strengths: size and speed. However, the former Viking and Raider has a reputation as someone who has had difficulty adjusting to offenses thrown at him in Minnesota in Oakland so he'll have to prove he's with the program before he earns a role. Matthews - coming off of a down season in Buffalo - could be the beneficiary of an Edelman ban because of his track record of production from the slot. Berrios, Hollister and McCarron have outside shots at the roster, and all have practice-squad eligibility. Among the questions that need answering: How do the Patriots view Patterson? If he's strictly a special-teamer, like Slater, Nate Ebner or Brandon King, then that could open a spot for the team to keep an additional wideout. Between Edelman's suspension, Mitchell's health, and Patterson's role. . . it's anyone's guess as to which players are filling particular roles come September. All that means is this should be as competitive as any position on the roster in training camp.