The New England Patriots took the scenic route in acquiring a starting wide receiver through free agency.
The Patriots showed interest in signing top unrestricted free-agent wideouts like Travis Benjamin, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Rishard Matthews but settled on restricted free agent Chris Hogan. The Patriots had to sign Hogan to an offer sheet, which the Buffalo Bills then had to match or decline. They declined to match the three-year, $12 million deal, and Hogan is the Patriots’ newest receiver.
But what role is he going to play in the Patriots’ offense?
Hogan spent almost exactly half (49.9 percent) of his 2015 snaps in the slot for the Bills, yet 58.3 percent of his catches and 57.6 percent of his targets came on the outside.
It seems unlikely the Patriots will use Hogan in the slot, since they already have two better options, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, to serve that role. Hogan, at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, is bigger and not quite as quick and agile as Edelman and Amendola. He does seem to excel at freelancing while running short routes in the middle of the field. The Patriots give their receivers leeway when running shallow routes, and as long as he can get on the same page as quarterback Tom Brady, that could be one of his biggest strengths in New England.
If the Patriots keep Amendola and his $6.8 million salary cap hit in 2016, Hogan will almost certainly play the “X” role, where Hogan caught just 19.4 percent of his passes and received 22 percent of his targets in 2015. It’s not unusual, however, for the Patriots to take an alternative route in finding an “X” receiver.
Brandon LaFell, who played the role in 2014 and 2015, primarily played in the slot during his time with the Carolina Panthers. There’s now a pattern of the Patriots finding big “X” receivers that come at a discount price tag because they previously played in the slot.
If the Patriots decide Amendola isn’t worth his cap hit in 2016, then Hogan likely would play the “Z” role in three-receiver sets and the “X” in two-receiver sets. The Patriots would then have to find another starting-caliber wideout.
Here’s how Hogan’s stats broke down in 2015:
Total: 36 catches on 59 targets for 450 yards with two touchdowns, four drops.
Outside: 21 catches on 34 targets for 255 yards with one touchdown, three drops
Slot: 15 catches on 25 targets for 195 yards with one touchdown, one drop
Z: 14 catches on 21 targets for 111 yards
X: Seven catches on 13 targets or 144 yards with one touchdown, one drop
Short passes: 29 catches on 40 targets for 231 yards with one touchdown, three drops
Deep passes: seven catches on 19 targets for 219 yards with one touchdown
It’s worth mentioning Hogan didn’t have any drops on deep targets and that five of his 12 deep incompletions came from Bills backup quarterback EJ Manuel. Edelman had just three deep receptions on 10 targets for 105 yards with a touchdown in 2015. Amendola had four deep receptions on nine targets for 105 yards and LaFell had eight deep catches on 22 targets for 237 yards.
Hogan doesn’t have elite speed, but he did show an ability to separate from defenders on go routes, and he could be a better deep threat than LaFell in a similar role. Hogan caught five deep passes on 10 targets for 107 yards in 2014.
Hogan certainly wasn’t expected to garner a $12 million contract as he entered free agency, but the Patriots clearly like what he showed as a pseudo-starter in 2014 and 2015.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images