The New England Patriots’ passing attack is no longer predicated on reading Tom Brady’s mind, which is good news for any pass-catcher not named Julian Edelman or James White.
It’s an especially positive development for young wide receivers who had trouble getting on the same page as Brady and entering the quarterback’s so-called “circle of trust.” Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency this offseason.
Jakobi Meyers, who’s entering his second NFL season after going undrafted out of N.C. State, could truly benefit from Brady departing if fellow second-year pro Jarrett Stidham takes over at quarterback. Meyers and Stidham developed impressive chemistry during training camp and preseason, producing 16 catches on 20 targets for 216 yards with a touchdown in four exhibition games.
Here are two of those connections.
Another TD for @jkbmyrs5!
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 9, 2019
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 18, 2019
One of Stidham’s most impressive throws of the preseason went to Meyers in Week 1 of the preseason against the Detroit Lions. Stidham had plenty of time in the pocket but delivered a bullet roughly 30 yards downfield perfectly placed so Meyers could snag it out of the air and keep running.
Meyers, like many Patriots rookies before him, struggled at times during the regular season because he wasn’t where Brady expected him to be on a passing attempt. Meyers either hadn’t run the route precisely enough or misjudged what Brady was seeing from the opposing defense. It’s been a common refrain through the years in New England.
The 23-year-old still caught 26 passes for 359 yards in 15 games last season.
The complexity of the Patriots’ offense under Brady was its biggest strength when he was throwing to Edelman, James White, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola or any of his most trusted and experienced targets over the years. It will be an adjustment, to say the least, to lose his 20 years of experience in the system.
But it also was its downfall in developing young players. It’s hard to believe Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Taylor Price, Brandon Tate, Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson were all simply not good football players selected between the second and fourth rounds of the NFL draft. Part of the undoing of their development has to rest on the shoulders of the complexity of the system and the demands of the quarterback.
The system might not change with Brady gone, but it does at least bring in a new quarterback who should have developed better chemistry with players like Meyers, 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry and another undrafted free agent, Gunner Olszewski during the 2019 season.
“That’s our guy,” wide receiver Gunner Olszewski said of Stidham after a preseason game last summer. “That’s our leader. He always takes command of the huddle every time he’s in there with us younger guys. He’s a younger guy too, but he does a good job of calming everybody else down and telling us, ‘Here we go. Let’s do it.’ He’s done a good job of just taking the reins of our rookie class, our basic group. He runs it. He’s done a great job. I’d follow that guy anywhere.”
Stidham would lead fellow young players through walk-throughs after regular-season practices. New players, like Antonio Brown when he came aboard in September, also would be thrust into those groups.
None of this is to say that the Patriots, as a whole, are in better shape with Brady gone. It’s not true. The Patriots, as currently constructed, would be better with Brady at quarterback. But it will be interesting to see if a newer, younger quarterback can help develop younger wide receivers with lesser demands and more patience. Other NFL teams have not had trouble developing young wide receivers in the same span of time as the Patriots.
Since Brady was drafted, the only wide receivers drafted by the Patriots to substantially produce have been Deion Branch, David Givens and Edelman. Malcolm Mitchell also showed potential before his career ended prematurely due to knee injuries.
Harry will be the Patriots’ true test. He caught just 12 passes for 105 yards with two touchdowns in seven games last season. and also carried the ball five times for 49 yards.
If Harry can suddenly produce under a new quarterback, then it could be a natural second-year leap. Or maybe he’ll simply be playing with a less demanding signal-caller.