As the 2018 Patriots meet in humid Foxborough this week for the opening of training camp, a stark reality exists at the top of the wide receiver depth chart.
After appearing in yet another Super Bowl last season, New England will enter the new campaign minus its two leading wide receivers from a year ago. Both Brandin Cooks (traded to the Rams) and Danny Amendola (signed with the Dolphins in free agency) are gone.
In their place remains a formidable group of receivers, varied in both age and capability. Yet uncertainty reigns, especially as the assumed leader of the group is suspended for the opening month of the regular season. Ultimately, only a handful of the 11 receivers will emerge to make the final roster.
Since both fans and fantasy owners (often an overlapping group) will have questions about the possible direction of the team’s pass catchers, here’s an overview of the receivers on the Patriots’ depth chart:
Julian Edelman: The 32-year-old is far and away the most experienced receiver in the group, especially in terms of his career with Tom Brady. Edelman’s 425 receptions from Brady tower over the collective 119 from the rest of the group combined.
Yet two areas of concern accompany such a seemingly safe pair of hands. Not only is Edelman returning from a torn ACL a season ago, but he’s also suspended for the first four games. When he returns, expectations are that he will again top the depth chart.
Chris Hogan: Another of Brady’s favorite targets in the past two seasons, Hogan was hampered by injuries in 2017. He returned to haul in six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LII, and figures to once again factor in the New England offense.
After carving out a role as a go-to deep threat in 2016, Hogan showed more balance in his touchdowns a season ago (scoring more frequently from inside the red zone). He averaged 3.8 receptions per-game in 2017, and has a chance to receive more targets in the new season.
Matthew Slater: Interestingly, Slater has twice as many career rushes (two) than he has receptions (one). Of course, beyond its mere statistical notability, this means nothing in rating Slater’s special teams-focused career. The captain of the Patriots’ third unit has been named to five All-Pro teams since 2011, none of which came from his ability as a receiver.
The 32-year-old’s value to the team isn’t judged on his offensive contribution, but he will be adjusting in 2018 as well. New kickoff rules will impact Slater’s job, as well as NFL special teams as a whole.
Malcolm Mitchell: It might seem odd to classify Mitchell as a “veteran,” given that the last Patriots fans saw of him in a game was his record-setting day as a rookie in Super Bowl LI. But as that was over a season ago, Mitchell is tacitly a veteran heading into his third New England training camp.
Whether or not Mitchell will be fully healthy for training camp remains to be seen.
Kenny Britt: Signed by the Patriots after he was cut by the Browns last December, Britt offers a slightly unusual prospect for Brady and the New England offense who have long favored quickness over physicality. His size (6’3″ 230 pounds) could offer an effective counter to teams trying to press the Patriots receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Phillip Dorsett: Another player acquired in 2017, Dorsett struggled to make an impact last season. His 12 catches could increase in 2018 without Cooks monopolizing the deep routes. His speed has always been a defining attribute, but the former Miami wideout will need to add more balance to his game to see more targets from Brady.
Jordan Matthews: Matthews was a collegiate standout at Vanderbilt in a talent-laden SEC, dominating future NFL defensive backs. He found success in the NFL more difficult, accumulating too many dropped passes. Still, he’s only 26, and could become the latest in a long line of players who succeeded in New England after less-than-heralded entrances.
Cordarrelle Patterson: In a sense, Patterson appears to have everything Bill Belichick wants in a football player. His versatility speaks for itself: Of his 18 career touchdowns, seven were from pass receptions, six from rushes, and five from kickoff returns. The 27-year-old has always had the potential to be “special,” but will have competition if he wants to get snaps on offense.
Braxton Berrios: Berrios was a sixth-round pick by the Patriots in the 2018 draft. A traditional slot receiver, he proved invaluable in Miami’s resurgent 2017 season. And it helps that he’s been directly compared to a player he’s trying to replace: Danny Amendola.
Cody Hollister: A member of the Patriots’ practice squad in his 2017 rookie season, Hollister was unable to get onto the field. As his twin brother, Jacob, is a tight end on the team, Cody’s size (6’4″) is a plus attribute that could help win a job.
Riley McCarron: After starting his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Texans last year, McCarron has officially worked with a long line of Patriots slot receivers. The competition will be fierce to win a coveted role in a Brady-led offense, but McCarron appears to at least have the requisite quickness.