(An occasional series looking at some of the key positional battles expected at Patriots training camp)
Much like the gaggle of prospects looking to secure the Democratic nomination for president, the candidates for Patriots receivers’ jobs will be looking to make a statement with a strong summer surge to survive the final cuts.
Minicamp provided a glimpse of some of those in the running, but the competition will get a lot more heated (literally and figuratively) when Fort Foxborough opens for camp in late July.
Here’s a look at the no less than 13 players who will be vying for spots on the big stage when the Patriots open up against the Steelers.
■ The favored sons: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Matthew Slater.
Fresh off his Super Bowl MVP performance and armed with a new contract, Edelman was his usual self during the spring. He was zipping around, running crisp routes, catching everything, and setting the standard for everyone else.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 213-pound Harry is a presence. He was given a heavy workload (including lots of Stephon Gilmore facetime and private tutorials) and acquitted himself quite well. His impact will be huge.
Slater has one career catch, and if he doubles that this season, it’ll be a surprise. Still the best and most consistent gunner the NFL has ever seen.
■ The front runners: Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman, Jakobi Meyers.
Dorsett has speed and a sound knowledge of this offense. He came on strong late last season, particularly in the playoffs, which helped earn him a new contract.
Getting on Tom Brady’s favored list is key, and Harris had an excellent minicamp. His size (6-3, 200 pounds) and strength make him an intriguing option out of the slot.
Inman struggled in camp but his strong performances down the stretch for the Colts in 2018 could be a harbinger of things to come. He has good size (6-3, 205 pounds) and speed, and he’ll get a deeper look next month.
Meyers (6-2, 203 pounds) is another target with size and smoothness. A high school quarterback, Meyers is smart and speedy. He garnered some small-group-session time with Brady, Harry, and Josh McDaniels during minicamp, and that bodes well for regular training camp.
■ The dark horses: Damoun Patterson, Braxton Berrios, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski.
Patterson was on the practice squad for a portion of last season, so he has a leg up on this group. He’s tall (6-2) but slight (190 pounds) and has an uphill battle.
Berrios had some really nice moments during minicamp, making some highlight-reel catches. He’s smart, quick, and as energetic as they come. Berrios must overcome his comparative lack of size (5-9, 190 pounds) and a lot of depth-chart company to crack this group.
Ditto for Davis and Olszewski.
Davis (5-9, 185 pounds) was a shifty slot receiver who could really sizzle down the seam at Auburn. He has excellent hands and toughness and could surprise this summer.
Olszewski (6 feet, 170 pounds) has virtually no receiving experience, but the converted defensive back didn’t really look out of place in his limited camp work. He’s quick and caught most everything thrown his way. Olszewski is the longest of long shots, but even those pay off sometimes.
The whistle stoppers: Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon.
Thomas wasn’t seen during minicamp, as the 6-3, 229-pounder continues his rehab from a torn Achilles’ tendon. Encouraging video emerged of him running in a straight line, but he evidently isn’t ready for cutting and shifting speeds just yet. It’s possible he starts the season on the PUP list.
Gordon is on indefinite suspension, but if he’s reinstated, it wouldn’t take the 6-3, 225-pounder long to get up to speed — something he proved last season.
If either Thomas or Gordon returned, it would give this corps a mid- to late-season turbo boost.