DEPTH PERCEPTION | TIGHT ENDS AND WIDE RECEIVERS
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
The Patriots’ receiving corps will have a much different look in 2018, but the two most important characters — Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman — remain the same.
When healthy, they are the best tight end and slot receiver and offensive 1-2 punch in the league. They serve not only as trusted safety valves for Tom Brady but they produce big — and clutch — plays.
Gronkowski (heading into Year 9) and Edelman (10) know this offense inside and out and always are in lockstep with their quarterback. They run precise routes, rarely blow assignments, and catch pretty much everything thrown in their direction.
Gronkowski will go down as one of the all-time greats at his position. He’s enormous (6 feet 6 inches, 265 pounds) and athletic. Gronkowski lines up everywhere, has soft, strong, and reliable hands, and can trample defenders after the catch.
The tight end room will be loaded with candidates to complement Gronkowski with holdovers Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, and Will Tye, along with newcomer Troy Niklas in the mix.
From a statistical standpoint, Allen didn’t make a huge impact in 2017. From a physical standpoint, however, the solidly built Allen made plenty of impacts on opponents as a willing and often ferocious blocker.
Hollister is a good athlete who showed flashes and with more experience should be able to stretch the defense down the seam. Tye spent last season on the practice squad, but he has NFL experience and if healthy he could make a real push for a spot.
Niklas is intriguing. He has great bloodlines (Bruce Matthews is an uncle), impressive size (6-6, 270), and deceptive athleticism but never found a groove in the Arizona offense and was used almost exclusively as a blocker. Can Josh McDaniels unlock the former second-rounder’s potential?
There are a ton of guys battling for one — possibly two — spots in the receivers’ room after Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Phillip Dorsett. Two other receivers — Matthew Slater and Cordarrelle Patterson — will concentrate on special teams.
Hogan is a fast and reliable receiver who can line up inside and out. He runs crisp routes and finds soft spots.
Mitchell is coming off a lost season after a promising second-half surge in 2016. He knows this offense and has Brady’s trust. It’s not impossible that Dorsett slides into the X receiver role vacated by Brandin Cooks. Dorsett has similar size and skill set, and his role should increase after absorbing the playbook for a full season.
Kenny Britt has great size (6-3, 223) and toughness. Like Hogan, he can play any receiver spot and is fearless going over the middle and taking on defenders after the catch. Britt is a willing and active blocker in the run game.
Jordan Matthews adds a new dimension in the slot. He has great size (6-3, 212) and intelligence. Matthews has good short-area burst and will make tough catches. He could end up being a red zone monster, especially if teams decide to double Gronkowski.
If the Patriots can find a way to integrate Patterson into the offense, he could be the steal of the offseason. Gaining separation isn’t a problem for the 6-2, 220-pound Patterson, who has blinding speed and good strength. He has struggled with route running and too often will body catch instead of using his hands. He had 13 rushes last season (for 121 yards and a pair of TDs) and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more of that in New England.
Practice squadders Cody Hollister and Riley McCarron will provide camp competition. Hollister has good size (6-4, 209) and solid hands. McCarron (5-9, 185) is quick and tough and also has return experience.
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