Why Patriots’ Kendrick Bourne Has Been NFL’s Best 2021 Receiver Signing

Bourne is enjoying a career year in New England

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Kendrick Bourne was a relative afterthought in this year’s talented crop of free agent wideouts.

So far, he’s outperforming them all.

The energetic 26-year-old is in the midst of a career year for New England, totaling 42 catches for 623 yards and five touchdowns through his first 12 games with the Patriots. Those numbers outpace nearly every other veteran receiver who changed teams in free agency this past offseason, including several who signed far heftier contracts than Bourne’s three-year, $15 million Patriots pact.

Bourne leads all free agent signees in both receiving yards and touchdowns and ranks second in receptions, trailing only Jacksonville’s Marvin Jones. Here’s a look at how he compares to other wideouts in his FA class, ranked by average annual contract value:

AAVGames playedCatchesReceiving yardsTouchdowns
Kenny Golladay$18M8233720
Corey Davis$12.5M8324774
Curtis Samuel$11.5M35280
Nelson Agholor$11M12324163
Will Fuller$10.6M24260
Marvin Jones$6.25M11465293
A.J. Green$6M10345383
Emmanuel Sanders$6M11365594
Keelan Cole$5.5M10192990
Kendrick Bourne$5M12426235
Sammy Watkins$5M8233550
Jamal Agnew$4.75M10242291

If you combine production, durability and value, you could make a compelling argument for Bourne as this year’s best free agent wideout signing.

There are other contenders, sure. Jones, Green and Sanders have posted comparable stats on similar salaries (Green and Sanders are on one-year deals; Jones’ is a two-year) and Davis has the best per-game numbers despite subpar New York Jets quarterback play. But Davis is making $12.5 million and has struggled to stay healthy, and Bourne has the other three beat from a reliability standpoint.

One of Bourne’s most impressive statistics this season is his 79.2% catch rate, which ranks third among all NFL receivers with at least 20 targets behind Arizona’s Rondale Moore (85.5%) and Christian Kirk (80.3%). Green, Sanders and Jones lag far behind in that category, checking in at 61.8%, 59.0% and 58.2%, respectively.

Bourne has a catch rate of 82.8% (24 of 29) during the Patriots’ current six-game winning streak and 92.9% (13 of 14) over the last three weeks, with the lone incompletion coming on a pass that quarterback Mac Jones bounced. He’s on pace to become just the second wide receiver since 1992 to record 500-plus receiving yards with a yards-per-catch average above 14.0 and a catch percentage above 79.0%, according to Boston Sports Info.

Bourne, who’s been running as New England’s No. 3 receiver behind Jakobi Meyers and Agholor, also ranks first among the dozen aforementioned wideouts and tied for 19th in the NFL in yards per route run (2.18), per Pro Football Focus. Green ranks 56th. Sanders is tied for 98th. Jones? Tied for 107th.

There’s the non-receiving edge, too. Bourne has six carries for 74 yards this season, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels tapping into an aspect of his skill set that wasn’t utilized during his four years with the San Francisco 49ers. On the above list, only Agnew (111 yards on seven carries) has more. Bourne’s also the only player here who’s thrown a touchdown pass in 2021.

Though New England’s Agholor investment has yielded modest results thus far, Bourne has looked like a slam-dunk signing — one of several in a Patriots free agent class that also featured key contributors Matthew Judon, Hunter Henry, Kyle Van Noy, Jalen Mills and Davon Godchaux. And head coach Bill Belichick believes he’ll only continue to improve.

“I think he’s been very coachable,” Belichick said one day after Bourne caught two touchdown passes in a win over the Tennessee Titans. “We can see some improvement in the things that he’s doing on a number of levels throughout the course of the year. I think if he keeps working hard and continues — which he has, he’s a hard-working kid — if he continues to work hard and pay attention to little details, that there’s still a lot of room for improvement, as well.

“I really respect the way he’s tried to do what we’ve asked him to do. It’s certainly gone in the right direction.”

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