Patriots Can Learn This Obvious Lesson From Bengals-Rams Super Bowl

Both teams boast top-end receiving talent


Feb 8, 2022

As they begin to assemble their 2022 roster, the New England Patriots should be taking notes from this year’s two Super Bowl participants.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams took markedly different team-building paths to Super Bowl LVI, using methods the Patriots either can’t (Cincinnati finding key players at the very top of the NFL draft) or wouldn’t want to (LA trading away a boatload of first-round picks) replicate.

But both boast an asset that New England notably lacked this season: top-end receiving talent.

Let’s start with Cincinnati, since their situation is more applicable. After landing the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, they eschewed their dire need for offensive line help and instead drafted wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who’d starred alongside Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow at LSU.

The Bengals already had two above-average wideouts in 2020 second-rounder Tee Higgins and reliable veteran slot Tyler Boyd, but the addition of Chase had a transformative effect on Burrow. The former turned in one of the best seasons ever by a rookie receiver (81 catches, 1,455 yards, 13 touchdowns), and the latter, after a promising but unspectacular debut campaign in 2020, became an elite QB, leading the NFL in completion percentage and yards per attempt and ranking second in passer rating despite still playing behind one of the league’s weakest O-lines.

Higgins (74-1,091-6) and Boyd (67-828-5) also had strong seasons in complementary roles, and the Bengals made an unlikely run to their first AFC championship since 1998.

The Patriots have their own promising signal-caller in Mac Jones, who went 10 picks after Chase in last year’s draft. They have a couple of quality wideouts in Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne, both of whom enjoyed career years in 2021, and potentially a third if Nelson Agholor can rebound from his underwhelming first act in New England. And they have a tight end, Hunter Henry, who was one of the NFL’s top red-zone threats this season, finishing tied for first at his position and tied for ninth overall with nine touchdown catches.

Adding an all-world talent like Chase to that group likely is unrealistic given the Patriots’ draft slot (21st overall) and salary cap constraints, but finding Jones a true No. 1 target should be high on their offseason to-do list. That could be done via a trade for a player like Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley, by again being aggressive in free agency — Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson are among the names who should be available, though both might be too pricey — or by nabbing a wideout in the early rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Potential options there include Alabama’s Jameson Williams, Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson, Ohio State’s Chris Olave, Arkansas’ Treylon Burks, Penn State’s Jahan Dotson and Jones’ former Crimson Tide teammate, John Metchie.

There’s been debate since the Patriots’ season ended over whether they should target a traditional outside threat to fill their wideout need (a la Chase or Stefon Diggs, who did wonders for Josh Allen when he joined the Buffalo Bills last season) or look to add an always-open slot tactician in the Julian Edelman/Wes Welker mold. Adding either would help Jones as he eyes a Year 2 leap. And this year’s other Super Bowl contestant is proof that slot receivers can be legit No. 1s, too.

That’s where Rams superstar Cooper Kupp does the majority of his work. Lining up inside on 63.6% of his snaps, per Pro Football Focus, Kupp this season became the first player since Steve Smith in 2005 to win the NFL’s receiving Triple Crown, leading the league in catches (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16).

Kupp’s running mate in LA is former Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr., who replaced the injured Robert Woods after signing in mid-November. Beckham confirmed this week that the Patriots made a run at him after his release from the Cleveland Browns — and that he came “very, very, very” close to signing — signaling that Bill Belichick was actively pursuing ways to improve his team’s collection of offensive weapons.

That pursuit should continue this offseason as the Patriots — who also have a few glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball — look to rejoin the ranks of the NFL contenders, most of whom are similarly stocked at wideout.

The four teams that played in this year’s conference championship games all featured a player who ranked in the top seven in the NFL in receiving yards: Kupp (first), Chase (fourth), San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel (fifth) and Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill (seventh). Kupp, Chase and Samuel ranked in the top five in catches of 20-plus yards and 40-plus yards, too. And the Chiefs and 49ers also feature arguably the NFL’s two best tight ends in Travis Kelce and George Kittle.

Every team that reached the divisional round boasted at least one premier pass-catcher, as well: Diggs in Buffalo, Davante Adams in Green Bay, A.J. Brown in Tennessee and Mike Evans, Godwin (who missed the playoffs with a torn ACL) and Rob Gronkowski in Tampa Bay. Going back to the wild-card round, you had Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb in Dallas, DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona, Diontae Johnson in Pittsburgh and Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow in Las Vegas.

Even if the Patriots want to continue to be a smashmouth, run-focused offense in 2022, they’ll need a more potent passing game to keep pace with the NFL’s elite. Improving the supporting cast around their impressive rookie quarterback should be an offseason priority.

NESN’s big game coverage is presented by Berkshire Bank

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
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