Patriots Mailbag: Could Young Wide Receiver Be Surprise Roster Candidate?

Isaiah Zuber is a player to watch

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Memorial Day has passed, and the temperature in Foxboro has been in the 90s, but it’s not officially summer for New England Patriots players until minicamp is over.

The Patriots wrap up organized team activities Friday and will hold mandatory minicamp next week before their extended summer break.

Thursday’s OTAs session felt a little bit like minicamp with Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty and some other veteran players back in the mix. Next week, we could see the practice debuts of tight end Jonnu Smith and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, assuming good health.

For more on OTAs, watch this week’s mailbag video above and read below.

@Hodgebone
Do the pats make anymore moves?

It feels like the Patriots are always good for one or two moves between minicamp and training camp. Last season, they famously signed Cam Newton, but they also traded for cornerback Mike Jackson.

They signed linebacker David Harris in that time frame a few years ago.

So, it might not be anything major, but the Patriots have cap space, and there are some notable veteran players, like Golden Tate and Larry Fitzgerald, still floating around out there. Wide receiver is probably New England’s biggest remaining need, though players like Isaiah Zuber, Tre Nixon and Kristian Wilkerson stood out Thursday at OTAs.

@jonothorpejazz
Who is your surprise player to make the week 1 roaster?

Maybe Zuber? Zay Zubez, as I like to call him. He’s ex-Zuber-ating to watch. OK, I’ll stop.

Zuber would need to beat out Wilkerson, Nixon, N’Keal Harry, Marvin Hall and Devin Smith for a roster spot, but that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

Zuber is uber athletic and the Patriots showed some willingness to get creative with him in limited game action last season. New England typically has used Harry on designed plays like end-arounds and screens. Zuber actually might be more effective in that role because of his athleticism. He touched the ball four times last season and picked up 50 yards.

Zuber made the highlight play Thursday at OTAs when he hauled in a deep pass in stride from quarterback Brian Hoyer during 7-on-7 drills. He’s pretty clearly made a leap already this offseason.

He also comes with a great mindset.

“I’m just approaching it, coming to work every day,” Zuber said Thursday. “I don’t know if I’m going to be on the active squad or the practice squad. I’m just trying to attack each and every day.”

I can’t remember a player ever mentioning the phrase “practice squad” in June before. He just wants a spot! That’s pretty endearing.

@riraho5
However improbable, what if due to hand injury/more regression/whatever NE ends up cutting Cam and Stidham starts 17 games and does really well with Jones as a backup? Winning is of course nice, but how much of a disaster would that be for Bill?

This is quite a hypothetical situation, but I’m not sure why it would be a massive disaster for Bill Belichick. I think he just wants to find a quarterback, regardless of whether it’s in the fourth round or first round.

Stidham has looked good in OTAs so far, but we’re also talking about unpadded and non-contact practices. I’d like to see it from him in training camp and the preseason before we start mentioning his name as a potential starter.

I will say that he was good as a rookie, and hopes were high for him before a disastrous summer in 2020. Maybe he’ll bounce back and show that promise again this summer. He’s been solid this spring.

@ashley1992__
Hi Doug, As of right now, what is your prediction for the WR depth chart going into game 1? Any chance Zuber can make this team?

My best guess would be:

Starters: Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers
Backups: Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry and Gunner Olszewski

But there’s definitely a chance that Zuber could make the team. The competition for that fifth wide receiver spot is pretty close. If the Patriots had traded for a player like Julio Jones, then no, Zuber would probably have no shot at a roster spot. But that final spot that comes down between Zuber, Harry, Wilkerson, Nixon, Hall and Smith is going to be interesting. Harry should be the frontrunner, but he’s been outperformed in the practices open to the media.

Let’s go rapid fire.

@foxborofenway
Myles Bryant or JoeJuan?

I’ll go with Myles Bryant. He has more versatility at positions of greater need for the Patriots. And let’s be honest, New England is better at finding defensive backs after the draft as rookie free agents than in the second round.

@nflfan01204285
Whos gonna be the starting back this year? Also who do you think the receiving yards leader this year?

— Damien Harris.

— I’m going to take a swing and say Jakobi Meyers for the second straight year.

@Dan_B_Phin_Phan
Where does Deshaun Watson play in 21′?

Maybe nowhere?

@BostonCJB
Hi Doug! Do you think there’s a real chance that Mac could challenge Cam and start week 1?

Not at this point, but a lot can change in three months. Let’s see him definitively pass Stidham and Hoyer on the depth chart first.

@thisryanjackson
sup?

I’ve been catching up on Vice’s “Dark Side Of The Ring” series. I’d recommend that.

Here’s some stuff I’ve been listening to. Most of you guys probably won’t like it, but maybe some of you will.

@BrianJBaby
Who?s a surprise roster cut or trade

I’m interested to see what kind of role Chase Winovich can find this offseason. Linebacker is a crowded position, and Belichick made Winovich expendable a few times last season.

@Meghan_Ottolini
Brand New, TBS, Saves the Day. You can only choose one.

Separating the art from the artist, Saves The Day. 100%.

@VicariouslyP
#Maildoug same question I asked last time. Is Farnsworth just a camp body or does Cardona have competition this year?

I love a persistent question about long snappers. I think Wes Farnsworth is just a camp body. I can’t imagine Joe Cardona being cut.

@jspinato8
How do you feel about the criticisms and lack of support from many in the Boston media and fan base when it comes to Cam Newton? I think it?s a bit harsh. He seems like a hard worker, a good teammate, and someone the coaches like as well. It?s someone you?d root for to succeed.

Newton is a player who generates massive praise and really harsh criticism from fans and the media. And, unfortunately, if you stay down the middle and try to evaluate him as fairly as possible, then bullets start flying from both sides.

Overall, I would say some of the more negative analysis of Newton’s play, especially last season, was over the top. My buddy Michael Hurley at CBS Boston did a nice job of putting it into words.

Newton’s critics would lead you to believe he couldn’t complete a forward pass last season. He wasn’t fantastic, but there’s too much hyperbole surrounding his performance with the Patriots.

Newton should be better this season after the Patriots signed tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith plus added wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. And if he’s not, then New England should know right away and turn to someone else.

At the very least, Newton will get a fair shake this season after a full offseason and with added weapons.

Patriots safety Kyle Dugger
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