FOXBORO, Mass. — From a snap count standpoint, Phillip Dorsett played a significant role in the Patriots’ offense during his first season in New England.
Production-wise? Not so much.
Traded from the Indianapolis Colts to the Patriots five days before the start of the 2017 regular season, Dorsett played in all but one game for his new club. He was on the field for 33.1 percent of New England’s offensive snaps (377 total) but accounted for just 3 percent the team’s receptions, tallying 12 catches on 18 targets for 194 yards and zero touchdowns.
Dorsett was just one of two receivers to play more than 350 offensive snaps and record fewer than 15 catches last season, the other being Baltimore’s Breshad Perriman (10 catches in 385 snaps).
“That was a tough transition, but you can’t really control that,” Dorsett said Tuesday on Day 1 of mandatory Patriots minicamp. “So it was just, come in, learn a whole new system and make sure you stay ready.”
Even with Julian Edelman sidelined for the season and Chris Hogan missing all of November and most of December, Dorsett never found his way onto quarterback Tom Brady’s radar. A three-catch, 68-yard performance in a Week 2 win over the New Orleans Saints and a 31-yard reception off a flea flicker in the AFC Championship Game were the highlights of an otherwise unremarkable campaign for the 2015 first-round draft pick.
Now Dorsett, whose fifth-year option the Patriots declined to pick up last month, is fighting for a job in what might be the NFL’s deepest receiving corps.
Edelman and Hogan are back and healthy. Kenny Britt has had time to learn the system after joining the Patriots in December. Thousand-yard receiver Brandin Cooks and third-down maestro Danny Amendola are gone, but New England brought in Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson and drafted Braxton Berrios to help fill that void. Riley McCarron and Malcolm Mitchell have potential, too, if Mitchell can ever get back on the field.
The Patriots currently have 11 wide receivers under contract, including special teams captain Matthew Slater. It’s unlikely more than six, maybe seven, will make the 53-man roster, and only Edelman, Hogan and Slater look like the only roster locks.
Of the others, Matthews has the best track record (three 800-yard seasons in Philadelphia), Patterson is a stud kick returner, Berrios is straight out of Patriots slot receiver central casting, and Britt, at 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, has a distinctive skill set as a big-bodied possession receiver.
In other words, Dorsett has his work cut out for him.
“It’s competition everywhere,” the 25-year-old said. “There’s always competition going. That’s my mindset when I come here and play. It doesn’t matter what happens — you’re competing. Everything’s on film, so you’re competing. That’s something you’ve got to live for when you play football.”
Dorsett’s been a busy man thus far in organized team activities and minicamp. Patriots quarterbacks have targeted him 17 times in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills during practices that were open to the media, the most of any wideout. On Tuesday, he caught five of the seven passes thrown his way, including an over-the-shoulder touchdown from Brian Hoyer.
“It’s been great,” said Dorsett, who’s in the midst of his first offseason as a Patriot. “Just being here for a whole season, actually just seeing the plays over and over, knowing what you have, not really second-guessing yourself. It’s a lot easier for me out here. It helps me go out there and just play free.”