There has been plenty of hype for undrafted free agents over the years in New England, but the excitement might be at an all-time high for Patriots rookie wide receiver Jakobi Meyers.
Meyers has been running with the Patriots’ first-team offense in training camp, and he caught six passes for 69 yards with two touchdowns in his preseason debut.
There appears to be some confusion surrounding expectations for Patriots preseason and training camp standouts, however. Anytime Meyers’ name is mentioned around New England, there’s inevitably one snide or sarcastic comment, dubbing him, “the next (insert name here).”
The names are familiar: Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld, Brian Tyms, etc.
Thompkins, Sudfeld and Tyms didn’t become superstars for the Patriots, but that’s not really the point. They made the Patriots roster, and that’s all you’re really trying to identify during the summer: sleeper inclusions. The Patriots have a great track record with undrafted free agents, and the media has a decent one with recognizing them.
That’s why it wasn’t a big surprise at the time that Thompkins, Sudfeld or Tyms made the roster. Some UDFAs have a higher success rate in New England, like JC Jackson, David Andrews and Jonathan Jones. Some don’t make the Patriots but are scooped up onto other 53-man rosters like Kenny Moore, Cre’Von LeBlanc and Austin Carr.
Others wind up fizzling out after a season or two, like Thompkins, Sudfeld, Tyms or Jacob Hollister.
Meyers is this year’s most notable undrafted rookie based on what he’s done through two-and-a-half weeks. But let’s not put the cart before the horse and say Meyers will be a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie in New England.
Sure, he could, but let’s set his realistic ceiling at what Thompkins did in 2013. The Patriots had similarly shallow receiver depth, and Thompkins caught 32 passes for 466 yards with four touchdowns in 12 games with eight starts.
Thompkins had the most productive season out of any Patriots undrafted receiver in the Bill Belichick era by a long shot. Next up is Curtis Jackson, who had five catches for 44 yards in 2000. Hollister had four catches for 42 yards in 2017. If Meyers was to match Thompkins’ production, it would be a major accomplishment in itself.
Let’s also note that running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 74 carries for 275 yards with five touchdowns as a UDFA in 2008, and Brandon Bolden had 56 carries for 274 yards with two touchdowns in 2012.
Widening our net, only one undrafted free agent receiver has ever had over 1,000 yards as a rookie, and that was Bill Groman in 1960 with the Houston Oilers. He caught 72 passes for 1,473 yards with 12 touchdowns. He nearly doubles the next name on the list, Anthony Armstrong of the Washington Redskins, who had 44 catches for 871 yards with three touchdowns in 2010. Even Doug Baldwin *only* had 51 receptions for 788 yards with four touchdowns in 2011.
Thompkins’ 2013 season ranks 34th all-time in receiving yards, 33rd all-time in catches and 21st all-time in receiving touchdowns among undrafted rookies.
We’re writing Meyers’ name on the 53-man roster firmly with a golf pencil with no eraser, but there’s still three weeks until the Patriots must trim their roster down from 91 players. A lot can happen in that time. Meyers’ first goal should be to become the next Thompkins, Sudfeld or Tyms, but he must actually make the Patriots roster first. Then we’ll see how much production he actually can generate as a rookie.