What Julian Edelman’s Retirement Means For Patriots’ Receiving Corps

The Patriots should look to add to this group in the 2021 NFL Draft

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The New England Patriots bid adieu to one of the best receivers in the history of their franchise Monday as Julian Edelman announced his retirement.

Given his injury concerns, Edelman wasn’t expected to carry the Patriots’ receiving corps in 2021. But without him, New England will be relying on a cast of largely unfamiliar and/or unproven wideouts this season.

Here’s an updated look at the Patriots’ current depth chart:

Nelson Agholor
Agholor, whom New England handed a two-year, $22 million contract on Day 1 of free agency, projects as the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver. They hope he can replicate his resurgent 2020 campaign, during which he tallied 896 receiving yards and eight touchdowns for the Las Vegas Raiders while thriving as one of the NFL’s top deep threats (18.7 yards per catch). The former Philadelphia Eagles pariah can play in the slot or out wide and should add a vertical element that was largely absent from New England’s passing game last season.

Kendrick Bourne
The Patriots’ other free agent addition, Bourne is coming off a career year for San Francisco, posting a 49-667-2 line while other 49ers pass-catchers battled injuries. Known for his route-running, sure hands and energetic personality, the versatile 25-year-old could emerge as the Patriots’ top slot option with Edelman gone. “I think my skills will fit the (Patriots?) offense well,” Bourne said in his introductory video conference.

Jakobi Meyers
The breakout star of last year’s underwhelming Patriots campaign, Meyers’ production from Week 7 on nearly equaled the output of every other New England pass-catcher combined. He nearly split his snaps equally between slot (344) and wide (312) alignments, developed a strong connection with quarterback Cam Newton and should compete with Bourne for a starting spot this summer.

N’Keal Harry
Will Harry still be with the Patriots when training camp begins in late July? The 2018 first-round draft pick has been the subject of frequent trade rumors after failing to impress in either of his first two NFL seasons. A fresh start could be best for both parties.

Gunner Olszewski
Edelman was an elite punt returner for the Patriots before he became a full-time offensive contributor, which didn’t happen until several years into his NFL career. Could Olszewski, a first-team All-Pro return man in his second pro season, follow a similar path? We’ll see how the converted Division II cornerback stacks up in training camp. He has seven career catches for 96 yards and one touchdown.

Isaiah Zuber
Zuber spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad, but the Patriots manufactured touches for him in his few gameday call-ups, using him on jet sweeps and reverses.

Kristian Wilkerson
Wilkerson was elevated from the P-squad for one game last season but didn’t play a snap. He was highly productive at FCS Southeast Missouri State and boasts an intriguing athletic profile.

Devin Smith
A second-round pick in 2015, Smith is looking to revive his career after injuries derailed his first few seasons. The former Ohio State star hasn’t played in a game since 2019 and has just 15 career receptions.

The Patriots fielded arguably the NFL’s weakest collection of pass-catchers in 2020, with Edelman missing most of the year with a knee injury that ultimately led to his retirement. Bringing on Agholor and Bourne (plus standout tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry) helps matters, but New England shouldn’t be done adding at receiver.

This year’s NFL draft class features an especially deep pool of wideout talent, including a number of intriguing slot prospects.

Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith could be first-round options for the Patriots if either falls to No. 15. Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore, Florida’s Kadarius Toney and Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman all are potential first-rounders, and the lengthy list of potential Day 2 difference-makers features USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, Clemson’s Amari Rodgers, Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge and South Dakota State’s Cade Johnson, among others. On Day 3, they could take a look at South Carolina’s Shi Smith, North Texas’ Jaelon Darden or BYU’s Dax Milne.

Thumbnail photo via Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports Images

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