As the Patriots begin to ramp up preparations for the 2018 regular season, it will be done without wide receiver Eric Decker, who retired on Sunday.
The 31-year-old, who struggled to acclimate after signing in New England on Aug. 3, chose to call time on his eight-year NFL career.
Decker’s exit only further underscores an existing question mark for the Patriots: Who will step up in the receiving corps? Fellow veterans Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt (as well as Super Bowl LI winner Malcolm Mitchell) have also been cut.
The possibility of another acquisition, whether via trade or free agency, has been speculated over with frequency. Dez Bryant, currently a free agent, has been one of the catchier names. Yet veteran Patriots observers are skeptical.
“It takes a very special guy to come in and assimilate late to this system,” said former Patriots tight end (and WEEI radio host) Christian Fauria on WBZ-TV.
“It’s like you’d rather just work with the guys you have,” Fauria added.
Evaluating the remaining players – especially from a fantasy football standpoint – is difficult. Here’s what the experts have been saying about the Patriots’ receivers with the potential to make an impact on fantasy leagues:
A favorite wide receiver target of Tom Brady’s since 2013, Edelman has two limiting factors heading into 2018.
First is his return from a torn ACL, which kept him out of the entirety of last season. The second is his four-game suspension for violating NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. Both have been mitigating factors in Edelman’s average draft position.
Still, there is a belief that Edelman could come back as strong as ever and be a value pick.
“The fact that Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, [and] Brandon Cooks left, that is over 200 targets leaving that offense,” noted NFL Network’s Kay Adams.
And Scott Spratt of Pro Football Focus summed it up after extensive analysis.
“Aim to snag [Edelman] as your third receiver or primary flex option and trust your abilities as a manager to fill in the gaps, when or if they come.”
Hogan is the only returning Patriots receiver playing in Week 1 and who also has legitimate experience with Brady.
The 30-year-old is averaging as the 25th receiver picked in drafts, yet his ceiling (especially in Edelman’s absence) is higher.
Here’s what Matthew Berry of ESPN had to say on Hogan:
This one might be even more baffling to me. People have clearly forgotten what Hogan did last season before getting hurt, as he’s currently going as WR29, in the eighth round. Hogan was a top-10 WR at the point when he got injured, he was tied for fourth in the NFL in red zone targets and that included two more targets than teammate Rob Gronkowski. Among the 73 WRs with at least 70 catches since the beginning of 2016, Hogan ranks fourth in terms of fantasy points per catch (3.3). So, he just needs volume. Well, now that he is fully healthy and with Brandin Cooks in L.A. and Julian Edelman suspended for four games (and coming off injury), whom do you think Tom Brady is going to throw to? Exactly.
Dorsett presents a possible – though obviously uncertain – fantasy option partly due to the fact that he’s not being drafted in most leagues. He could be an early waiver wire pickup.
Still, he’s worth monitoring. As Bobby Sylvester of Fantasy Pros noted, “Dorsett has been on the field the majority of the time with Tom Brady this preseason and obviously has flex-appeal from week to week as long as that remains the case.”
And Brady has had good things to say about Dorsett, which carries weight.
“If Brady decides he likes you,” wrote NESN’s Doug Kyed, “then you’re probably going to be targeted frequently.”
Since the Patriots first acquired Patterson earlier in 2018, there’s been speculation that he could have some breakout fantasy potential given New England’s creativity in personnel usage.
More realistically, there’s still a chance that Patterson could make a fantasy impact in a standard receiver role in 2018. Like Dorsett, he’s largely going undrafted (he’s on just 3 percent of ESPN rosters).
Bluntly citing “attrition” as a primary factor for his possible fantasy value, CBS Sports explained the former NFL first round pick’s route to fantasy relevance:
While Patterson may not see consistent volume out of the gate, the 6-foot-2, 228-pounder has the size, athleticism and run-after-catch ability to become a playmaker for QB Tom Brady. As a result, he has some sleeper potential and should be kept on the radar as a potential September pickup.