FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick made a savvy move before Week 2 of the 2015 season, when he acquired underused receiver Keshawn Martin from the Houston Texans.
The New England Patriots were relatively low on receivers at the time, since Brian Tyms and Brandon Gibson didn’t make it through training camp healthy and Brandon LaFell began the season on the PUP list, but their injury issues were nothing compared to now. Martin has been forced to step up for LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola throughout the season. He’s having his most productive year as an NFL receiver with 23 receptions for 265 yards with two touchdowns while also contributing on special teams as a returner.
Martin caught seven passes for 68 yards as the Patriots’ leading receiver Sunday with Edelman and Amendola out in their 26-20 loss to the New York Jets. Martin drew praise from quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for the effort.
“Keshawn has done a great job for us,” Belichick said. “He got here and was starting to kind of get into the rotation and get some opportunities and all that, then he missed a couple games and that kind of slowed him down a little bit. But as he’s come back and, unfortunately, as we’ve lost a little bit of depth at that position — that’s been unfortunate for the guys that we miss — but it’s given Keshawn an opportunity and he’s really stepped in and taken advantage of that.”
Martin picked up the system quickly, since he spent the 2014 season playing under former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who runs a similar offense with the Texans.
“I’m sure that helped him to some degree,” Belichick said. “We’ve used him in different positions, really in all three receiver spots in our three-receiver groupings. He’s been inside and outside, both on the strong side and the weak side, so he has good position flexibility.
“He’s smart and he’s also given us some plays in the return game. I think his running skills, running after the catch are good, and his running skills in the return game — both punts and kickoffs — which, again, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to find a guy that can do both. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to find a guy who can do either one, but to find somebody who can do both, particularly given the situation that we’re in at that position — the returner spot as well — he’s really come through for us there.”
Martin has 10 kick returns for 257 yards, including a 75-yarder, and six punt returns for 65 yards with a fumble.
“Since he’s got his opportunity he has really taken advantage of it,” Brady said. “I certainly have a lot of confidence in him and he keeps making plays out there for our team, whether that’s on offense or special teams, so it’s been great to see him, like I said, really emerge and be a real critical player for us.”
Martin has been mostly dependable for the Patriots with just two drops in 34 targets this season, and he’s caught 67.5 percent of Brady’s targets.
“I think that he has demonstrated the ability to do the two things that we really tell our receivers they have to do, which is to get open and catch the ball,” McDaniels said. “He’s versatile. He can play multiple roles in multiple spots, which he has done in each game he has played in. He’s demonstrated the ability to make plays under pressure and he’s made some catches on third down and he’s made some catches in the red zone.”
Belichick and McDaniels also complimented Martin’s positive attitude, which came in handy when the receiver was forced to miss five games with a hamstring injury this season.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Dec 13, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Keshawn Martin (82) during the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports