A staple of the Bill Belichick-era Patriots has always been its ability to find and develop talented players that, for whatever reason, weren’t selected in the top rounds of the NFL draft.
This year, the latest version of this longtime New England trend could be undrafted wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. The 22-year-old has consistently shown his ability in Patriots training camp so far in 2019, turning heads and overturning the depth chart.
Here are a few things to know about the 6-foot-2 Meyers:
He’s earned some reps with the first team offense.
One of the notable takeaways from the early days of Patriots training camp is that it’s been Meyers — and not first-round pick N’Keal Harry — who has staked an early claim at a starting receiver spot.
Of course, a major caveat to this fact (other than that it’s preseason) is the current absence of both Julian Edelman and Demaryius Thomas due to injuries, and Josh Gordon’s ongoing NFL suspension.
And while Harry has had good days at training camp too, it’s been Meyers who has truly put his best foot forward. Here’s how the Patriots lined up during a walkthrough in the joint practice session with the Lions on Tuesday:
First-team offense in a walk-through portion:
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) August 6, 2019
Meyers has won plaudits for making catches like the one from Day 7 of training camp, when he outmuscled cornerback Keion Crossen (who was in coverage) before tipping the pass to himself over the reach of safety Patrick Chung. The result was a touchdown, and cheers from the Foxborough crowd of fans in attendance.
“He’s made some competitive catches,” admitted an impressed Devin McCourty afterward.
He’s a converted quarterback who grew into the role.
Anytime a Patriots player is known to have played quarterback and now plays receiver, the comparisons to Julian Edelman become inevitable. In Meyers’s case, the transition occurred far earlier than Edelman’s.
As a freshman, he redshirted for a Wolfpack team that was led by former Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett. After recovering from a knee injury, Meyers was switched to receiver a week before his second season started.
The result wasn’t overnight success, though Meyers did appear in all 13 games for N.C. State that season. He caught just 13 passes as a redshirt freshman, but began to adapt to his new position.
In his second year as a wideout, Meyers made 63 catches for 727 yards and five touchdowns, winning “Most Improved Player” on the team. By his final season at N.C. State in 2018, Meyers had become instrumental in his team’s passing game. His 92 receptions (for 1,047 yards) put him in the top-10 in college football.
“Most people don’t get a second chance,” Meyers said of the position switch in 2017. “I was just blessed with another one, so I’m thankful to the coaches.”
He almost attended Kent State like Julian Edelman.
Again, the Edelman comparisons are always difficult for an NFL rookie, given the accomplishments of the 33-year-old. Yet one thing Meyers almost shared with Edelman was a chance to play as a dual-threat quarterback for Kent State.
In the summer of 2014, right after Edelman’s breakout season in New England, Meyers reportedly offered a verbal commitment to attend Kent State.
Yet after fellow recruit Austin King de-committed from N.C State and chose Indiana, the Wolfpack were short a quarterback. A last-second recruiting effort swung Meyers, and he wound up in Raleigh instead of Kent. Though he didn’t end up at quarterback for the school, he still found a way to make an impact.
Tom Brady dropped a philosophical quote talking about Meyers’s early impact.
When Tom Brady was asked about Meyers earlier in training camp, he offered praise but also a deeper take that seems to lend well to the rookie receiver’s possible opportunity:
He’s done a great job and he’s taken advantage of his opportunities. I think that’s really what we try to stress to anybody. It really doesn’t matter – the football doesn’t care how old you are, whether you were drafted or not. The football doesn’t care how much experience you have. It just knows that when I let that ball go, it’s got to be in the hands of the guy who it’s intended for. If that happens to be him, it’s him. If it’s Julian [Edelman], it’s Julian. Whoever it is, it doesn’t matter in football.
His ability didn’t necessarily show up in NFL draft metrics.
Despite posting impressive numbers in one of college football’s top conferences, Meyers didn’t hear his name called during the 2019 NFL Draft. While it’s impossible to know exactly why he was passed on through 254 picks, part of the perception was Meyers’s lack of eye-popping ability.
At the pre-draft rookie combine, Meyers posted a 4.63-second 40-yard dash time, which left him tied for the second-slowest time run by a receiver at the event. NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein described Meyers as a “below average athlete” projected to be a “priority free agent,” correctly predicting that he wouldn’t get picked in the draft itself.
Yet while Meyers didn’t showcase elite speed at the combine, he’s shown an ability to run away from the “NFL athletes” Zierlein cited in his concerns. In 2017, Meyers went 71 yards for a touchdown against Florida State by faking out Chargers 2018 first round pick (and All-Pro) safety Derwin James.
Meyers also has shown an ability to make contested catches. According to Pro Football Focus, Meyers was tied for sixth in college football last season by making 17 contested catches.
He’s displayed a capacity to make downfield plays even when covered:
Not enough people are talking about NC State’s Jakobi Meyers (@jkbmyrs5).
He isn’t a big separator, but he catches everything. He’s a top-5 WR in this class in drop rate and contested catch %.
He’s a Jason Avant clone, IMO. Chain mover, sneaky red-zone threat and SO consistent. pic.twitter.com/XuAPGnCz3V
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) March 30, 2019
While Meyers is far from guaranteed to even make the Patriots’ roster at this point, his fast start to training camp could be the first sign that New England has found another diamond in the rough.