Phillip Dorsett runs really fast.
The New England Patriots wide receiver maybe ran too fast prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, when teams pigeonholed him as a deep threat.
Here’s Dorsett’s deep target percentage (deep targets per total target) per season, via Pro Football Focus:
2017: 41.2 percent
2016: 25 percent
2015: 27.8 percent
Dorsett led the Patriots in 2017 and the Colts in 2015 in deep targets. Among the Colts’ top three receivers, he finished first in deep target percentage in 2016. The blazing 4.28-second 40-yard dash Dorsett ran at his pro day in 2015 made him into a deep threat, even if his skill set might not properly fit that role.
The University of Miami product caught 42.8 percent of deep targets in 2017, 42.9 in 2016 and just 20 percent in 2015. Those first two marks are fine. They’re above average, but there was an entire set of Dorsett’s skills that were being overlooked.
Dorsett can be a crisp route runner with wiggle and agility to shake defenders after the catch. He’s also shown a strong set of hands this summer.
The 25-year-old put his short game on display Sunday when he caught seven of seven targets for 66 yards with a touchdown in the Patriots’ 27-20 Week 1 win over the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. It was the best game of Dorsett’s career, and he was the best wide receiver on the field for the Patriots.
Let’s watch four plays that display Dorsett’s new and improved role in New England’s offense, none of which involve a deep target.
Dorsett received a large cushion from Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph on first-and-10 with 2:33 left in the first quarter. (Click image to open video.)
— Facing man coverage, Dorsett ran a slant into the middle of the field and reached the first-down marker using his acceleration off the catch. Dorsett caught the ball against his body, but with no competition for the catch, it wasn’t necessary for him to catch it away from his frame.
Dorsett came up big when the Patriots got the ball with 1:29 left in the first half while leading 14-6.
On 2nd-and-9 with 32 seconds left in the second quarter, Dorsett ran an out route while facing more off-man coverage from Joseph. Quarterback Tom Brady’s throw was off the mark, but Dorsett laid out and caught the ball in bounds.
That’s a good way to earn Brady’s trust.
After an incomplete pass to running back James White, Brady went back to Dorsett on 2nd-and-10 with 23 seconds left. Facing off-man again, Dorsett ran a corner route against Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson. He caught the ball against his body and wisely stepped out of bounds with 19 seconds left.
Brady went back to Dorsett again on the next play on first-and-goal with 19 seconds left.
— Dorsett lined up in the slot but was sent in motion into a bunch formation to identify the Texans were in man coverage. Johnson crossed the formation to follow Dorsett.
The Texans sent three pass rushers and double-covered Rob Gronkowski, who lined up out wide running a fade; James White, who ran a simple stop route out of the backfield; and Riley McCarron, who who ran a in-route from the slot. McCarron was bumped at the line of scrimmage to ensure he wouldn’t successfully pick Johnson.
That left Chris Hogan, running a quick out, and Dorsett, running an out, single-covered. The bunch formation gave Dorsett some separation off the line of scrimmage. A quick stutter step and precise cut gave him the cushion he needed to get away from Johnson and haul in Brady’s pass.
“We got the coverage that we were practicing the whole week,” Dorsett said about the score Monday. “We kind of had a clue of what they were going to play on it, and we just made the right play, and Tom made the right read.”
Brady tried to catch the Texans with 12 men on the field on his next target to Dorsett, a quick 3-yard hitch in the second half.
— It should have worked, but the officials didn’t flag the Texans.
Dorsett’s next reception came with a bit of controversy. Was Brady targeting Dorsett or Hogan? (Click image to watch video.)
— Both players ran matching crossing routes of different depths.
Would this pass make it to Hogan?
Dorsett had to jump up to snag it.
Dorsett said Monday he didn’t know who Brady was targeting.
Regardless, it was a nice catch by Dorsett, who picked up the first down. We like how he mixed his velocity on the route, really turning on the jets as he came out of his break.
Dorsett’s final reception was his flashiest.
Brady threw a screen to Dorsett, who then juked Johnson out of his shoes for the first down. Dorsett said he learned the move from fellow Patriots receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
It’s unlikely Dorsett catches seven passes with a touchdown every week. But it’s obvious he’s earned Brady’s trust early in the season. Even when Julian Edelman returns from a four-game suspension, Dorsett should have a role in this offense.
Some other notes from our film review:
— Defensive end Trey Flowers had a spectacular game, registering 1.5 sacks and seven total pressures. The Patriots’ defense also allowed an average of 1.81 fewer yards per rush attempt when Flowers was on the field.
— Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy also was a game-changer against the run. The Patriots allowed an average of 3.05 fewer yards per carry when he was on the field.
— New England utilized a two-running back set (not a running back and fullback) on nearly 14 percent of its offensive snaps Sunday. That’s up from just five percent in 2017.
— The Patriots will miss running back Jeremy Hill, who tore his ACL on Sunday. He had a strong game as the Patriots’ No. 3 running back.
— We were left wondering what Dont’a Hightower was doing on this play.
— Give a ton of credit to the Patriots’ offensive line, which mostly neutralized Texans defenders J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.
— Patriots de-facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores coached up his players well to get pressure on Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson while still trying to contain him in the pocket. There were some breakdowns, leading to 40 rushing yards for Watson, but it was worse in the teams’ matchup last season.
— Running back Rex Burkhead was a little rusty recovering from a knee injury.
— Brady wasn’t perfect, but it certainly didn’t seem like his absence from OTAs affected him.
— Gronkowski is an animal. His absence from OTAs didn’t affect him at all.
— Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley asserted himself well in his NFL debut. The Texans ran well when Elandon Roberts replaced Bentley at middle linebacker.
— Slot cornerback Jonathan Jones didn’t look like he was coming off a postseason-ending foot injury. He didn’t allow a catch on three targets. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe also played well.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images