FOXBORO, Mass. — Earlier this week, multiple New England defensive backs compared Jakobi Meyers to his Patriots predecessor, Julian Edelman.
On Friday, head coach Bill Belichick did the same.
In describing Meyers’ rise from undrafted free agent to New England’s best and most reliable receiver, Belichick drew comparisons to Edelman, who joined the Patriots as a seventh-round converted quarterback and didn’t become a true offensive weapon until his fifth pro season.
“Honestly, we’ve had a lot of guys like that,” Belichick said. “Come in as a rookie free agent, expectations are low immediately. But then as things start to improve, such as his blocking and his overall route running and instinctiveness and savviness. Different, but kind of like Edelman in the development. Not saying they’re the same player. They’re not. But Edelman’s a guy who didn’t play much for a while and then became a great, great receiver here — one of the most dependable players we’ve ever had. That certainly wasn’t the case in Year 2 or Year 3, as he was in that development stage.”
Meyers isn’t on Edelman’s level. Few receivers in Patriots history are. But after learning under Edelman as a UDFA in 2019 and replacing him as New England’s top slot option midway through his sophomore campaign, Meyers has led the team in catches and receiving yards in each of the last two seasons. He’s tops in both categories again this year through five weeks despite missing two games with a knee injury, and he ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in catches per game, yards per game and Pro Football Focus grade.
The Patriots have added several veteran wideouts over the last two offseasons (Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker) and picked one in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft (Tyquan Thornton), but none have been able to knock Meyers off his WR1 perch. Safeties Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips both said they see shades of Edelman is Meyers’ game.
Belichick said Meyers’ QB background — he played it in high school before switching to receiver at North Carolina State — helps him see the field differently than most players at his position.
“Players like Julian and Jakobi are both good examples of players who played quarterback. However good they were or weren’t a quarterback, that’s not really the point,” Belichick said. “The point is that they’ve seen the ball coming from their hand, as opposed to always being on the receiving end of it. Kind of where you wouldn’t want to throw, and how a receiver can help a quarterback, or how a receiver can kind of fool a quarterback and make it hard for the quarterback to throw it to them. So I think in terms of being quarterback-friendly, let’s call it, that’s something that I’d say came naturally to him.
“But Jakobi’s worked extremely hard. He’s developed route running concepts and techniques at multiple positions, inside, outside, play-action, dropback, quicker throws, knowing when he has more time to operate, knowing when he has to (*snaps fingers*) get open quicker, things like that, based either on the timing of the play or the situation. He’s a very smart, savvy football player on a lot of levels. Not just in the passing game, but in the running game and in other formations and things like that. It’s been a great time of growth for him.”
Meyers was a godsend for Bailey Zappe last week in the rookie QB’s first NFL start, catching seven of eight targets for 111 yards and a touchdown in a 29-0 rout of the Detroit Lions. He can expect another heavy workload when the Patriots visit the Cleveland Browns this Sunday.
“It’s really fun to see guys develop like that,” Belichick said. “Come in and not be very far along but then progressively just keep stacking, and stacking, and stacking and stacking. … You watch guys develop like that. It’s really, it’s fun to watch. It’s a real credit to the amount of work and time they put into it.”