Third in a position-by-position series
Jakobi Meyers’s emergence was the silver lining of an all-too-often-cloudy Patriots receiving picture in 2020.
With a bevy of high-quality, game-changing players set to hit the NFL free agent market, the forecast in New England could change as quickly as a meteorologist’s snowstorm prediction.
Meyers and Damiere Byrd far exceeded expectations and were the most consistent producers for Cam Newton, especially after Julian Edelman’s season was cut short after six weeks because of a knee procedure.
Meyers’s 59 catches were the fewest for a Patriots team leader since Reche Caldwell had 61 in 2006. The next season, the club brought in Wes Welker (112 catches) and Randy Moss (98). Could a similar infusion of talent be coming?
Here’s an early look at some of the non-draft avenues the team could take for 2021:
The 2020 Patriots
Edelman: One of the grittiest competitors in franchise history, the soon-to-be 35-year-old is on the books for another season but it’s logical to wonder if he wants to continue. If he’s healthy, he makes any quarterback better. His 738 catches (postseason included) are second only to Welker (741) in franchise history.
Meyers: Took a huge leap in Year 2, and his chemistry with Newton was obvious. Can play inside and outside, and also throws a pretty nifty (and accurate) spiral.
Byrd: Often played bigger than his 5-foot-10-inch, 180-pound frame. Possesses excellent quickness and speed, though the deep ball wasn’t a big part of the offense this season. He’s a free agent and he’ll draw interest after career highs in receptions (47) and yards (604).
N’Keal Harry: Has yet to consistently flash the power and separation that made him a first-round pick. Had some nice moments in 2020 but has a long way to go to become the No. 1 receiver the club envisioned.
Gunner Olszewski: It’s hard not to love the way he approaches the game, and early comparisons to Edelman are understandable given his fearless approach and production as a punt returner. Still has a lot to learn to be a consistent producer as a receiver (remember, he was a defensive back in college), but he should get there.
Donte Moncrief: Came in and gave the special teams a boost and the receiving room a veteran presence. Has nice size (6-2, 216) and speed, and will be among the most watched players in camp.
The big free agents
Several high-profile guys could be changing addresses, including Allen Robinson, T.Y. Hilton, Corey Davis, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chris Godwin, and Kenny Golladay.
Robinson: There were conflicting reports that he was unhappy in Chicago this season, so it’ll be interesting to see where he lands. Has excellent size, first-step quickness, and hands.
Hilton: Has track-star speed and wastes very little motion. Can put guys in a blender with his double moves, and has reliable hands. Hilton has been bitten by the injury bug a lot.
Davis: Outstanding combination of size (6-3, 210), strength, and speed. Also has excellent hands and body control. He may end up with the biggest deal of the free agent class.
Smith-Schuster: An instinctive and reliable playmaker when the whistle blows. At other times, not so much. His attitude and social media addiction suggest a “me first” player. That won’t play well in a lot of markets — including this one.
Godwin: Was the most reliable receiver on a loaded Buccaneers roster. He’s 6-1 but his leaping ability makes him appear 6-4 at times. Tom Brady talked him up recently, but a handful of drops the last two weeks are hard to ignore.
Golladay: Another playmaker with a splendid blend of size (6-4) and athleticism. He was the biggest steal of the 2017 draft (third round) and could be the biggest get of this offseason.
The next-tier free agents
This group may not command bank-buster deals, but they’ll give a lot of bang for the buck: Will Fuller, Sammy Watkins, Marvin Jones, Nelson Agholor, Keelan Cole.
Fuller: Was thrust into the No. 1 role after the Texans inexplicably traded DeAndre Hopkins. Has superior speed and tracking skills but also the league’s balkiest hamstrings.
Watkins: Patriots fans are very familiar with this speed demon from his Bills and Chiefs days. He is pretty slick in and out of his breaks and is one of Patrick Mahomes’s trusted homies. Problem is, the Chiefs can’t pay everybody.
Jones: He’s been linked to the Patriots as often as every Naval Academy player in the last 20 years. Will he finally land in New England? A polished route runner with good hands, he could be the best bargain in the bunch.
Agholor: A savvy veteran who runs great routes and displays excellent vision and toughness after the catch, Agholor thrives in the intermediate game but will occasionally stun defenses with sneaky speed.
Cole: He’s not the biggest or the fastest guy out there, but makes all the grabs and specializes in spectacular ones; his one-handed snag against the Patriots in 2018 is still mesmerizing.