FOXBORO, Mass. — One of the breakout stars of the New England Patriots’ 2021 season is in the midst of a surprisingly silent summer.
Kendrick Bourne, who set career highs in catches and receiving yards last year while also contributing as a rusher and passer, did not catch a pass from starting quarterback Mac Jones in team drills during Monday’s training camp practice.
On its own, that’s an unremarkable stat. But it continued a concerning trend for the 27-year-old wide receiver.
Since catching three passes on three targets from Jones on Day 1 of camp, Bourne hasn’t notched more than one reception from New England’s QB1 in any of the last 10 competitive practices. In four of the last six, he’s posted goose eggs.
Per NESN.com’s training camp charting, here are Bourne’s reception and target tallies while working with Jones in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s this summer:
Day 1: 3 catches on 3 targets
Day 2: 1 on 2
Day 3: 1 on 2
Day 4: 1 on 2
Day 5: 1 on 2
Day 6: 0 on 0
Day 7: 1 on 1
Day 8: 0 on 0
Day 9: Non-competitive practice
Day 10: 1 on 2
Day 11: 0 on 1
Day 12: 0 on 1
Since that productive opening day of camp, Bourne has been targeted 13 times across 10 competitive practices and caught six passes, with eight of those targets and four of those catches coming on Days 2-5.
How does that compare to the Patriots’ other wideouts? Here’s how they have performed during that same span, again excluding passes from backups Brian Hoyer and Bailey Zappe:
Jakobi Meyers: 34 catches on 40 targets
Nelson Agholor: 16 catches on 25 targets
DeVante Parker: nine catches on 17 targets
Tyquan Thornton: seven catches on 11 targets
Tre Nixon: six catches on six targets
Lil’Jordan Humphrey: one catch on two targets
Kristian Wilkerson: one catch on one target
It’s important to note here that training camp stats can be deceiving.
Meyers, for instance, is having a solid camp, but he doesn’t have twice as many catches and targets as any other receiver because he’s dominating New England’s secondary. He’s seen such a heavy target share because he typically runs safer routes closer to the line of scrimmage, and with Jones often under duress as the Patriots acclimate to a new offense, the quarterback frequently has settled for the easy throw. Tight end Jonnu Smith has been one of Jones’ favorite camp targets for this same reason.
Context also is necessary with a player like Parker. He’s averaged less than a reception per day over the last 10 practices, but he does most of his work in contested-catch situations that carry a higher degree of difficulty.
But a major 2021 contributor like Bourne having as many receptions from Jones as a player like Nixon, who’s seen only occasional elevations from the second-team offense, is an unexpected and noteworthy development.
Bourne also has turned in more lowlights than highlights of late. In one practice last week, he dropped two passes in 1-on-1s, then showed questionable effort on a Jones interception, staying planted on the ground while cornerback Jalen Mills elevated to pick off the pass. Bourne appeared frustrated after that turnover, which came on the first rep of an 11-on-11 period.
What does this all mean for Bourne and the Patriots’ offense? Perhaps nothing. Maybe the season will start and Bourne will continue to provide the same type of multifaceted big-play ability he brought in his impressive first year in New England. But it does raise questions about how the Patriots will structure their receiving corps.
This offense has four proven veterans with starting experience (Meyers, Parker, Bourne and Agholor), and of those four, Bourne has been the least impactful this summer. Thornton also has shown promise in his first NFL camp and should push for playing time, though his role likely will be a minor one to start.
A characteristically upbeat Bourne acknowledged Monday he could be less involved than he was last season, when he had 55 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns and was one of the league’s most efficient pass-catchers.
“I’m definitely just playing my role, man,” he said. “Not trying to do too much, do too little. Whatever they ask of me, just go do it. If I’ve got to be on the bench, I’ll be on the bench. Whatever it needs to be. Everybody has that role, and once you can play in your role, that helps the team, without crying or being mad about anything. Just waiting for that chance and taking advantage of it.”
The Patriots also could look to trade one of their veteran wideouts before the season. While Agholor’s $9 million salary and lackluster 2021 campaign make him the most likely candidate, moving Bourne is a theoretical possibility, as well. Doing so would save the Patriots $5 million against the salary cap with dead-money charges of $1.4 million in 2022 and 2023.
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