The New England Patriots already thin receiving corps just got thinner with the retirement of Eric Decker. Julian Edelman will be serving a 4-game suspension to start the season and Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews, and Malcolm Mitchell were all cut after suffering injuries and/or failing to prove themselves. Decker had a solid shot at starting the season as the Patriots WR2 but, after struggling in the pre-season and failing to connect with Tom Brady, Decker decided to hang up his cleats.
What does that mean for the Patriots WR room going forward? It means opportunity. Lots of opportunities. With Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola now on other teams, the Patriots will need to replace 200 targets from last years offense. Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman are healthy this year, which will eat into those targets somewhat, but Edelman is suspended for the first four games of the season. Who will be the WR2 while he is out? Who will be the WR3 when he returns? The Patriots are likely to turn to two former 1st round picks to answer those questions.
One option is Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson has been a disappointment so far in his career and is looking to finally turn things around on his 3rd team. Patterson has not been a fantasy relevant player since his rookie year. He scored nine touchdown’s that season (including kick returns), which is the same number of touchdowns he has scored in the four seasons since.
The Vikings and Raiders wanted Patterson to be a versatile and explosive weapon but instead realized that they just had a gadget player who was difficult to work into the offense. The Patriots traded for Patterson this offseason and committed to working him as a true receiver, not as a gadget player. Surprisingly, that seems to be working well so far. Patterson has worked in multiple spots for the Patriots and earned the most targets in their week three pre-season game against the Carolina Panthers. Can the Patriots finally be the ones to make Patterson into the versatile and explosive weapon that so many thought he could be? Will they be the third organization to realize that he’s just an expensive kick returner? My money is on the latter…
Another option to fill the void in the receiving corps is Phillip Dorsett. Dorsett is one of just two WRs on the Patriots roster who caught a pass from Brady last season (Chris Hogan is the other). Dorsett didn’t have a great 2017 season, but he didn’t have a chance to get acclimated and develop a chemistry with Brady.
Now that he has a full off-season with Brady under his belt, the trust and chemistry have seemingly started to form. Dorsett caught all four of his targets with the first-team offense for 36 yards against the Panthers. That performance certainly isn’t amazing, but it might be telling of how Dorsett has evolved as a receiver. Dorsett has, essentially, only been a deep threat in the NFL. He’s averaged over 16 yards per reception over the past two years, and with his elite speed, it’s easy to understand why a team would want to target him deep.
This route chart is an example of the typical usage that he has seen. For the most part, he has either ran deep to vertically challenge the defense, or he has ran quick routes to get the ball in his hands, try to make a defender miss, and then outrun the rest of the defense. He hasn’t been a refined route runner, and he hasn’t been the kind of receiver you think of when you need a conversion on 3rd or 4th down. Against the Panthers, Dorsett performed more like the reliable receiver and not the guy who only runs fast. He even converted a 4th down with one of his four targets. If Patterson occupies the slot in Edelman’s absence, it would make sense if Dorsett filled the other boundary WR role during that same period and stayed on the field for two-WR sets.
If you aren’t convinced that you should have some optimism about Dorsett in 2018, then listen to this from Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) and take a look at his four catches from the week three pre-season game:
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) August 25, 2018
When Edelman returns, he will retake his throne in the slot. I would expect to see Patterson’s role decrease significantly with Dorsett being the player to retain his playing time on the outside. It wouldn’t be surprising if Dorsett takes hold of the position before Edelman returns when he’s operating as the WR2. In very deep leagues, I think you should try to get both of these players on your roster right now because they should at least provide decent depth for the first four weeks. In more standard leagues, the guy I want is Phillip Dorsett.
He is still young at only 25 years old, he has a full year in the system, he is higher on the depth chart, he has good draft pedigree on his side, and he has been improving little by little so far this offseason. If a chemistry has truly developed between he and Brady, Dorsett could be the next “breakout player that was available on every waiver wire to begin the season” that we talk about every year. You can add Dorsett at zero cost in most leagues or trade for him at a minimal cost in the small numbers of leagues where he is already rostered. Don’t be the person who misses out.