The New England Patriots continued to reshape their receiving corps this week.
On Tuesday, they traded Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams in a deal that netted them the 23rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Cooks surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in his lone Patriots season but was on the books for $8.5 million this year and is set to cash in as a free agent in 2019.
Then, on Friday, New England officially signed former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Jordan Matthews to a one-year contract, buying low on a player who struggled in 2017 but had been productive earlier in his career.
All of that activity, coupled with the return of Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell from season-ending knee injuries, should make for some highly competitive roster battles last summer. With only Edelman and Chris Hogan looking like stone-cold roster locks, seven wideouts could be fighting for just three spots, and there still is a chance more could join the fray via the draft or free agency.
The Patriots rarely allocate more than six roster spots to wide receivers, including one for special teams ace Matthew Slater. The last time the began a season with seven receivers on their 53-man roster was in 2008 — Slater’s rookie season — and one was cut after Week 1.
Here’s a look at the Patriots’ current depth chart at wide receiver:
Despite missing all of last season with a torn ACL, Edelman remains the Patriots’ best wideout. He was Tom Brady’s favorite target in 2016, catching 98 passes (no other Patriots player had more than 55) for a career-high 1,106 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll get a better sense of how his recovery is progressing once New England hits the field for organized team activities next month.
Hogan also spent time on the shelf last season, missing seven of the Patriots’ final eight regular-season games with a shoulder injury. He still managed to catch a career-high five touchdown passes, however, and was on pace to shatter his career bests for catches and receiving yards before going down in Week 8. Hogan returned for the playoffs and, after two quiet showings, was fantastic in Super Bowl LII, catching six passes on eight targets for 128 yards and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles. Assuming good health, he and Edelman should begin the season as New England’s starting wideouts.
The new guy immediately becomes the favorite to claim the No. 3 receiver spot. Matthews’ one year in Buffalo was an injury-riddled mess (25 catches, one touchdown in 10 games), but he was very good in the three seasons that preceded it, averaging 75 catches, 981 yards and 6.3 touchdowns per season for the Eagles. At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Matthews will be one of the Patriots’ biggest receivers, but he primarily plays in the slot, adding a new wrinkle to an offense that typically employs smaller slots, à la Edelman and Amendola.
Mitchell flashed as a rookie in 2016, then missed the entirety of last season with a knee injury that, concerningly, was not a torn ACL. If he’s healthy, he should provide a nice boost to the Patriots’ passing attack. But given his injury history — he also had knee problems at Georgia — that’s a big “if.”
Patterson is a two-time All-Pro kick returner who never became a reliable offensive threat in his five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders. The Patriots moved down 51 spots late in this year’s draft (from 159th to 210th) to acquire Patterson from the Raiders, who utilized him primarily on screens and short passes and as a part-time running back. Expect Josh McDaniels to cook up some creative looks for Patterson, whose special teams prowess gives him an edge over some of the players below him on this list.
Dorsett was on the field a ton for the Patriots last season but rarely saw the ball come his way. He was targeted just 18 times in 377 offensive snaps, finishing with 12 catches for 194 yards and zero touchdowns. A 2015 first-round pick who came to New England in the Jacoby Brissett trade, the speedy Dorsett still has potential, but his 2017 campaign did not inspire much confidence.
Britt flopped in Cleveland after signing a big-money contract last offseason, and he played sparingly after joining the Patriots in December, catching two passes in three games and sitting out the postseason as a healthy scratch. He was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2016, though, and should improve after a full offseason in the Patriots’ system.
We’re fully expecting fans to fall in love this summer with McCarron, who spent most of last season on the Patriots’ practice squad after being cut by the Houston Texans. McCarron, who went undrafted out of Iowa, is a ridiculously athletic slot receiver who has drawn comparisons to Wes Welker. He could challenge some of his more experienced teammates for a roster spot.
Hollister is another 2017 practice squadder, having initially signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent last May. Known mostly for his play as a special teamer at Arkansas, he looks like the low man on the wideout totem pole entering offseason workouts. Hollister’s twin brother, Jacob, is a Patriots tight end.
** Slater, a seven-time Pro Bowler, is a lock to make the roster as a special teamer after re-signing with the team last month. Listed as a wide receiver, Slater averages about 20 offensive snaps per season (he played 13 in 2017) and has caught one pass in his NFL career.