The revolving door of wide receivers entering and leaving the New England Patriots’ facility at Gillette Stadium continued rotating this week.
The Patriots released wide receivers Riley McCarron and Chad Hansen and placed running back Jeremy Hill on injured reserve Monday. They had filled those spots by Tuesday afternoon, signing wide receivers Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler and running back Kenjon Barner.
Let’s take a look at the Patriots’ updated list of skill-position players after those moves.
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
Obviously, the Patriots are all set here. They also have Danny Etling on the practice squad to give New England’s starting defense a different look.
Running back: Rex Burkhead, James White, Sony Michel, Kenjon Barner, FB James Develin
The Patriots have Ralph Webb on their practice squad, but they elected to sign Barner to fill Hill’s spot on the roster. That’s likely because of Barner’s ability to return punts. The Patriots need a punt returner for three more weeks until wide receiver Julian Edelman returns from a four-game suspension. The Patriots’ other options at punt returner were Burkhead, wide receivers Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson and safety Patrick Chung.
Michel was limited all of last week with a knee injury, and he was inactive Week 1 against the Houston Texans. We’ll monitor his practice availability this week to see if he can play Week 2. Until Michel returns, it seems the Patriots could use another bigger running back to complement Burkhead and White.
The Patriots reportedly worked out Orleans Darkwa and Charles Sims on Tuesday. It’s possible they would have signed one of those players if they didn’t need someone to return punts.
Wide receiver: Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Corey Coleman, Bennie Fowler, Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman (suspended)
The Patriots also have slot receiver/running back Jace Billingsley on their practice squad.
The key to this group is the health of Hogan and Dorsett until Edelman returns. The Patriots would probably like another dependable receiver to put on the field for four-wideout sets, but they can get by with just Hogan, Dorsett and Patterson for three more weeks. That’s especially true if Dorsett continues to shine like he did in Week 1.
If Hogan or Dorsett gets hurt, then all hell breaks loose.
Fowler likely will contribute on special teams coverage units, as well. It will be interesting to see who finishes the season with more receptions between Coleman and Fowler if either of them even catches a pass. Coleman has more upside, but Fowler is probably the safer bet.
New England reportedly worked out Brandon Tate, a Patriots 2009 third-round pick, on Tuesday. It seems the Patriots picked Barner, Coleman and Fowler over signing him. If Barner doesn’t work out as a punt returner, then it’s possible they could return to Tate down the line.
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen
The Patriots also have former Texans tight end Stephen Anderson, who is essentially a big receiver, on their practice squad.
Hollister sat out Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. It would give the Patriots’ passing game a jolt if he could return this week since Allen isn’t much of a pass-catcher at this point in his career.
Conclusion: Much has been made about the Patriots’ shallow wide receiver depth this season. We continue to think there’s a flaw in looking at that position in a vacuum. The Patriots are creative enough to develop personnel packages beyond three-receiver sets. The Patriots put Burkhead and White on the field for nearly 14 percent of offensive snaps Sunday, Develin wound up playing over 46 percent of offensive snaps, and the Patriots used two tight ends on over 30 percent of offensive snaps.
Overall, the Patriots’ skill-position group is fine despite the depleted wide receiver depth. Gronkowski is the best tight end in football, and the running back group is still deep and talented enough despite Hill’s ACL tear.
There’s a lot to like in the players listed above, and there will be even more to like when Edelman returns.
Thumbnail photo via Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports Images