Jermaine Kearse

Full Nelson? A look at wide receiver options remaining for Patriots after first wave of free agency

Full Nelson? A look at wide receiver options remaining for Patriots after first wave of free agency

The Patriots haven't landed a go-to receiver in free agency yet. They added Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris last week. They re-signed Phillip Dorsett. Maybe they're done. Maybe not. Maybe they'd rather execute a trade or dip into the draft at this position. 

There are still opportunities for the team to pick up a free-agent pass-catcher you've heard of before, though.

None of the receivers remaining may be at the same level talent-wise as Golden Tate, Adam Humphries, Jamison Crowder or Cole Beasley. But there are a few who may provide Bill Belichick's receiver room another level of depth. Below we lay out some of the bigger names available, their ages, and a stat that might indicate how they could provide the Patriots some value. All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.

Randall Cobb, 28, 87.9 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018
(Update: Cobb has reportedly signed a one-year deal with Dallas)
Cobb has dealt with injuries in recent seasons, but he understands leverage and knows how to operate among the safeties and linebackers who occupy the middle of the field. He's also accustomed to working with a demanding quarterback, which might make a potential transition to New England a little smoother than it would be for others. Cobb likely won't command as much as other slots have this offseason considering he played in just nine games last season. Spotrac has his market value estimated at two years and about $8 million per year. Cobb will be 29 when the 2019 season begins.

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Jordy Nelson, 33, 100.9 rating when targeted in 2018
Nelson makes sense on a few different fronts, despite the fact he'd be among the oldest players on the Patriots roster. Like Cobb, he understands what it's like to play with a meticulous quarterback. Like Cobb, he has some slot experience, though not nearly as much. Last season, just over a third of his snaps (34.3) were run from the inside. That versatility, though, would suit Nelson in New England. Nelson's next team might also be intrigued by his production in a below-average offense. His 100.9 rating when targeted placed him ahead of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Evans and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Signing Nelson would not count against New England's compensatory-pick formula since he was released by Oakland. He'll be 34 when the season begins.

Jermaine Kearse, 29, 1.79 yards per slot route run in 2017
The former Seahawks and Jets wideout is two years removed from a career year in which he had 65 grabs on 102 targets for 810 yards and five touchdowns. His 1.79 yards per route run from the slot that season put him ahead of Doug Baldwin, Jarvis Landry, Tyler Locket, Emmanuel Sanders and Crowder. Can he still hit that level? Kearse's pace slowed significantly last year, as he caught 37 passes for 371 yards with rookie Sam Darnold behind center in New York. In five career games against the Patriots, Kearse has 20 catches for 275 yards, including a 45-yard effort for Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. He played 77.5 percent of his snaps in the slot in 2018.

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Robby Anderson, 25, 16.5 average air yards per target in 2018
Anderson (6-3, 190) doesn't fit the profile of the types of receivers the Patriots have been after. He's not immune to slot work, but he saw just under 24 percent of his snaps come from the inside last season. He's more of a classic deep threat, as his 16.5 average air yards per target -- third in the league, per Next Gen Stats -- would indicate. The Patriots could benefit from that type of "X" receiver presence, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Josh Gordon's availability for next season. Anderson is a restricted free agent and has been given a second-round tender so not only would the Patriots need to give Anderson a contract, but they'd also have to relinquish a second-rounder. That might be a price to steep to pay, especially for someone who is just over a year removed from a high-profile arrest. Anderson will be 26 when the season begins. 

Pierre Garcon, 32, No. 19 receiver by PFF grade in 2017
This would be a lightning-in-a-bottle signing if it ever came to be. Garcon will be 33 when the 2019 season begins. He's played eight games in each of the last two seasons and 809 snaps total. He's had lingering knee issues, and he had to have arthroscopic knee surgery in December. In 2017, before his season was cut short, he hit a 1.79 yards per route run mark, placing him just ahead of then-Patriots wideout Brandin Cooks (1.78). If there's any chance he could get back to where he was before getting injured that season, he'd give the Patriots a boundary presence should Gordon be unavailable. 

Michael Crabtree, 31, 11.2 yards per catch in 2018
Hard to know where Crabtree's game is at given the situation he found himself in last year. He graded out as one of the worst receivers in the league among regulars, according to PFF, but when he caught passes, they usually resulted in chunks of yardage. That's saying something considering Baltimore's offense. His 13.2 percent of snaps in the slot last season won't put him on many radars for those looking for quick-hitting options, and there's not much about his recent past that screams he's deserving of a shot in New England. He did "squash" his beef with Aqib Talib, though, reportedly. At a go-kart track. So there's that.

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Jets rule out top two receivers for Week 17 vs Patriots

Jets rule out top two receivers for Week 17 vs Patriots

Ahead of the regular season finale between the Patriots and Jets, New York has listed four of their key players as out, including their two top receivers Quincy Enunwa and Jermaine Kearse. 

Starting outside corner Morris Claiborne and rotational linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis are also out. 

Enunwa recorded 73 yards on four catches against the Patriots in November. Kearse caught six passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. Not having two trusted receivers is not an ideal situation for rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. 

The Patriots could clinch the top seed in the AFC playoffs with a win and losses by the Chargers and Chiefs. New England should be able to take care of business pretty easily Sunday against the lowly Jets, but four key injuries could help put all the pressure on Kansas City and LA.

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What does Jermaine Kearse have up his sleeve for Patriots as a Jet?

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What does Jermaine Kearse have up his sleeve for Patriots as a Jet?

It’s hard to think of a player who’d have more of an excuse for underachieving than Jermaine Kearse. The former Seahawks wideout was shipped to the Jets on Sept. 1, plunked down in an offense he didn’t know and hooked up with a quarterback he’d never met.
 
But the near-villain (for New Englanders) of Super Bowl 49 has settled in much better than anticipated for the surprisingly successful Jets (3-2).

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 He’s got 22 catches on 28 targets for 220 yards and three touchdowns. The Jets are getting by on grit, moxie, want-to, elbow-grease and good, old-fashioned American work ethic and it ain’t gonna last. But Kearse and quarterback Josh McCown will always have September.
 
“The transition was really fast,” Kearse said of the period after he came to the Jets in exchange for DT Sheldon Richardson. The Jets also got a second-rounder along with Kearse.
 
“I don’t even think there was a transition, because when I found out I got traded, I left that night and got in and the next morning I went straight into the facility to start learning the playbook because they told me I was going to play the first game, so I had to prepare myself for that,” he added. “It gets better each day. I felt like I had a solid grasp on the playbook, now it’s getting down to the details – running certain routes certain way or certain splits – just fine-tuning my craft and continuing to get better.”
 
Kearse has become a huge fan of McCown’s. No surprise since he’s the Jets leading receiver and on pace to far exceed his most productive season in the NFL, 2015, when he had 49 catches for Seattle.  
 
“[McCown’s] ability to lead – the confidence that he brings into the huddle, his excitement and his knowledge. He’s played in the league for 15 years now and there’s a reason why he’s still playing,” said Kearse. “He has that “it factor” in the huddle that allows guys to rally up and make things happen when we need to and I think you saw that last week when we had a 97-yard drive.”
 
Kearse first burrowed into the consciousness of Patriots fans in Super Bowl 49 when he pulled in a 33-yard pass from Russell Wilson with 1:14 remaining. The ball ponged off five different limbs and body parts before settling in Kearse’s stomach and putting Seattle on the brink of a Super Bowl win that they famously failed to secure.
 
Does Kearse think about the catch?
 
“I guess the only time I would reflect back on that game is if somebody asked me about it,” he said. “As far as the catch, it’s just my competitive nature, just the ability to be opportunistic and make the most of each opportunity that I had and in that play, Russell [Wilson] gave me the opportunity and I did whatever I could in my will to come down with the ball and I was able to.”
 
Does he now appreciate how great that game was and how historic his catch remains?
 
“This league is a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-type-league” when it’s all set and done and I’m done playing,” he said, “I think that’s when I can sit down and look back on those types of plays and the plays I’ve made in certain games and reminisce on that, but as I’m still playing, I understand it’s a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-league,” so you’re always trying to not stay second place and do more.”
 
Kearse said he’s trying to infuse the Jets with a little bit of the Seahawks fight.
 
“Obviously, you have a high-energy coach with Pete Carroll who is running all over the place and then you have Coach [Todd] Bowles who is not running over the place, but they get their message across in different ways,” Kearse said when asked about the differences between Seattle and New York. “I really enjoyed playing for Pete Carroll. I enjoy playing for Coach Bowles now. We have a very young team. We have guys who are playing with a lot of chips on their shoulders who are being competitive. I’m trying to bring the same mindset I had in Seattle and bring it over here and be able to relay any message that I think can help our team in the long run.”