Let’s do some simple math as it relates to the New England Patriots’ wide receiver corps.
To start the 2017 season, the Patriots rostered five wide receivers: Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan and Matthew Slater. Since Bill Belichick took over as head coach the Patriots have averaged 5.58 wide receivers on their Week 1 roster (I think Chad Ochocinco represents the .58 of a receiver. Ooh, burn.)
The Patriots have kept five receivers on their initial roster eight times and six receivers eight times. They’ve had seven receivers once in 2008, but three of them — Slater, Kelley Washington and Sam Aiken — primarily were used as special teamers.
The Patriots currently have nine wide receivers vying for a spot on the 2018 roster: Cooks, Dorsett, Hogan, Kenny Britt, Julian Edelman, Cody Hollister, Riley McCarron, Malcolm Mitchell and Cordarrelle Patterson, who was acquired Sunday night. If the Patriots re-sign Matthew Slater, then they will have 10 receivers competing for spots.
The Patriots likely will only keep six receivers. The only foreseeable situation in which they keep seven receivers is if Slater and Patterson — also special teamers — are two of them. That means there will be an odd man out among receivers expected to contribute in 2018.
Since Hollister and McCarron finished the 2017 season on the practice squad, it’s a safe assumption they won’t be on the 2018 53-man roster. They could be, but it’s unlikely.
So, that leaves Britt, Cooks, Dorsett, Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell and Patterson likely competing for just five or six spots.
The most likely candidate to be left off is Mitchell, but it’s not based on talent. Mitchell was the Patriots’ No. 3 receiver as a rookie in 2016, but he missed all of 2017 with knee injuries. Mitchell didn’t suffer a torn ACL, and it’s rare for a player to miss an entire season with a knee injury that’s not an ACL tear. Mitchell had multiple knee issues in college, including a torn ACL, and he had knee injuries during the 2016 season and the 2017 preseason. It would be wise to see Mitchell take the field again before counting on him for 2018.
If Mitchell is healthy, then Britt, Dorsett and Patterson could be competing for just one or two spots. Britt has the most success at the NFL level. He had a 1,000-yard season as recently as two years ago, and he’s now playing with two buds from college in Devin and Jason McCourty. He might be motivated. He’s also the oldest of the three at 29 years old.
Dorsett is the youngest of the bunch. He was a 2015 first-round pick, and while he only had 12 catches for 194 yards in 2017, he’s only 25 years old, and he played a solid amount of snaps last season.
Patterson is the most intriguing of the three, because the Patriots just acquired him, and he’s versatile. He’s big, fast, can return kicks and be used as a pass-catcher, ball carrier and on special teams coverage teams.
This is obviously a good problem to have. The Patriots will be able to carry five or six quality wide receivers in 2018, and competition can breed success and improvement.
It will be interesting to see who emerges from the group and if Slater is still in the Patriots’ plans. He has yet to re-sign, and he took a free agent visit to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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