Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The New England Patriots reportedly are buying low on a low-risk, high-reward free agent.
This time it’s wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who’s coming off an injury-riddled season with the Buffalo Bills in which he tallied 25 catches, 282 yards and one touchdown.
That wasn’t Matthews’ M.O. in three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, however. The 25-year-old caught 225 passes for 2,673 yards with 19 touchdowns in three seasons with the Eagles after being selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He caught 65 percent of his targets in that time frame while doing most of his work out of the slot.
Matthews lined up inside on 73.1 percent of his snaps in 2017, 67.1 percent in 2016, 92.7 percent in 2015 and 92.4 percent in 2014. The Patriots typically prefer smaller slot players — Matthews is 6-foot-3, 212 pounds — but they also need a replacement for Danny Amendola.
And while Matthews is bigger than Amendola, Edelman, Wes Welker and Troy Brown, he does have the quickness needed to work from inside. He ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash coming out of Vanderbilt with a 6.95-second 3-cone and 4.18-second short shuttle.
New England could choose to switch Matthews’ position, too. Hogan was a slot receiver before joining the Patriots. Brandon LaFell, another former big target in the Pats’ offense, was a slot receiver with the Carolina Panthers before moving outside in New England. New England traded outside receiver Brandin Cooks on Wednesday.
Julian Edelman will take on the inside role in certain situations, but he’s just as much a “Z” outside receiver as he is a slot player. Chris Hogan will continue to man the “X” receiver role in the Patriots’ offense, but they likely will hold a competition between Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Riley McCarron and Cody Hollister for the No. 3 role behind Edelman and Hogan. What role Edelman plays in three-receiver sets will be dictated by who wins that competition.
Matthews immediately becomes the odds-on favorite to win the No. 3 spot based on his skill and experience. Mitchell is coming off a lost season due to knee injuries, Dorsett never fully caught on in 2017, Britt is a bit of wild card and Patterson has been a role player on offense throughout his pro career. McCarron and Hollister were on the practice squad last season. The Patriots were smart to add another receiver into the competition given the uncertainty surrounding Edelman, who’s coming off a torn ACL, and Hogan, who also dealt with injuries last season.
Matthews is no lock to regain his 2014 through 2016 for, has he had knee, ankle and thumb injuries in 2017. But he offers tons of upside and even could enter the conversation to replace Hogan as the Patriots’ No. 2 with a solid training camp.
Matthews isn’t Cooks; he doesn’t have his deep speed or playmaking ability. But he’s a receiver who fits New England’s offense. The Patriots have had success bringing in bigger slot receivers and having them line up all over the offense. And Matthews comes in with a better pedigree than Hogan or LaFell.
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