FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots fans can now officially get excited for the return of Josh Gordon.
When the NFL conditionally reinstated Gordon, the Patriots immediately put the talented wideout on the non-football injury list. Nine days later, Gordon returned to practice in full pads and was activated off of the NFI list.
We’ll see if that means Gordon plays Week 4 of the preseason Thursday against the New York Giants, but it’s a sign he’ll be on the field in two weeks when New England takes on the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first game that actually matters.
Gordon has two weeks to get in shape and acclimated back into the Patriots’ offense and rebuild chemistry with starting quarterback Tom Brady. Last season, Gordon caught two passes for 32 yards in his Patriots debut just 12 days after being acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns.
Since Gordon is back on the field and off of NFI, you can pencil him into a starting role at wide receiver along with Julian Edelman. Gordon started all 11 games he played with the Patriots last season.
It’s still undetermined, however, who will be the Patriots’ third starting wideout. The top options are Demaryius Thomas, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers after the Patriots waived Maurice Harris on Sunday with an injury designation. There are pros and cons to all four players.
Thomas tore his Achilles last season and only returned off of the physically unable to return list last week. He will have played no preseason snaps with quarterback Tom Brady by the time the season starts. It’s a tough ask to thrust him into a top starting role. At the same time, Thomas is the most experienced of those four receivers.
Dorsett looked good with Brady under center Thursday in the Patriots’ third preseason game. He started two games and caught 32 passes for 290 yards with three touchdowns last season. The Patriots know what they have in Dorsett even if he offers a limited ceiling.
Harry hasn’t played in a preseason game since suffering an injury over two weeks ago against the Detroit Lions. The first-round pick has plenty of potential, but it would be a lot to ask for Harry to get healthy and start in Week 1.
Meyers has actually looked better than Dorsett and Harry over the course of the entire summer. He showed good chemistry with Brady in training camp but sputtered Thursday when the starting QB was under center against the Carolina Panthers. Meyers started to shine again with rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham at the helm. Meyers has higher upside than Dorsett and Thomas. It ultimately comes down to trust from Brady.
The Patriots also have Gunner Olszewski, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson and Ryan Davis on their wide receiver depth chart. They’re longshots to make the roster with so many talented receivers above them. Berrios or Olszewski potentially could sneak their way onto the roster based on their returning skills, but don’t expect them to start on offense unless things go drastically south.