DETROIT — Over the past week, each text that pings into Jakobi Meyers’s phone has planted a little seed of dread.
“Heard you’re doing great in practice!”
“Keep it up!”
“I see you!”
All variations of the same message and sentiment. Meyers appreciated the love, but he also felt it wasn’t time for congratulations. Showing off in early August training camp practices is fool’s gold at least as often as it is the real thing.
On Thursday night he felt a sense of relief, because he took the first real step toward backing that up. The undrafted rookie was the Patriots’ leading receiver in their first exhibition season game, hauling in six catches on eight targets for 69 yards. He averaged 11.5 yards per catch and also led the pack with two touchdowns in the 31-3 rout of the Detroit Lions.
“Just the fact that I could go out there and show that I deserve to be here — for now — I’m just trying to keep pushing forward,” Meyers said after the game.
Meyers doesn’t overwhelm physically, but he wins battles by being an effective route runner with good hands. Meyers clearly knows how to use leverage to get in good position against defenders and the converted quarterback has built trust with Patriots passers in part because he sees the field similarly as they do.
Meyers, who started along with Phillip Dorsett at wide receiver, caught passes from Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham on Thursday.
His first touchdown catch, from Hoyer, was a contested grab over the middle that Meyers made with Detroit safety Miles Killebrew hanging all over him.
“They were kind of scrambling around trying to figure out who had whom, and I saw somebody come late and he ran right at me, tried to get hands on me and I just knew I had to fight through it and get to where my quarterback needed me to be,” Meyers said. “I got my eyes to [Hoyer] early so he didn’t have to take too much pressure and he just gave me a chance.”
It was a tight window, so the throw reflected trust in Meyers on Hoyer’s behalf. Asked what Meyers has done in practice to earn that trust, Hoyer turned his answer to the young Patriots receivers in general.
“Those guys have come a long way, they’ve put a lot of hard work in and you can see it translate out on the field,” Hoyer said. “Whether that’s Jakobi, Braxton [Berrios] had some really nice plays, N’Keal [Harry], Maurice [Harris], all those guys, they put a lot of hard work in. We all put a lot of hard work in.”
Hoyer said all he needed to with his decision to go to Meyers in that moment, anyway.
“The fact that [Hoyer] trusted me to even throw that ball, that’s something that I want from all the quarterbacks,” Meyers said. “Hopefully I can keep improving and they’ll give me a chance to make plays.”
Meyers’s second touchdown was on a pitch-and-catch from Stidham, who said Meyers and the offensive line made his life easy on that play.
“The field just kind of opened up and he ran a great route and got open. I tried to get the playmaker the ball. He did a great job of getting open and those guys up front did a great job of protecting,” Stidham said.
Meyers was working out of the slot on both of his scores.
There always seems to be one undrafted rookie who makes a big splash, and it seems like that’s Meyers this year. He said he hasn’t surprised himself over the last two weeks, but it’s hard to believe that even he figured he’d be spending so much time with the first team this early in the preseason.
Everyone is bumped up a slot with Julian Edelman not practicing, but Meyers has gotten reps over Berrios and Dontrelle Inman as well as playing ahead of the other undrafted rookie receivers.
His night ended in the third quarter on Thursday, something that’s usually reserved for players who either perform very well or are deemed too valuable to continue putting at risk for injury. It’s not exactly veteran treatment — that’s not having to play at all — but it was a positive sign for Meyers, along with getting the start.
The 22-year-old said he doesn’t feel like he’s on a mission to prove he should have been drafted, mostly because he’s too busy proving he deserves to be on the Patriots.
“I don’t have time to really think about what I have to prove to people who don’t — I don’t want to say don’t matter — but I have to keep proving to my coaches that I deserve to be here,” Meyers said. “I’m not on the team yet so I’m trying to make sure I can stay here and continue to be here so that’s who I’m trying to prove a point to.”
There’s still a long way to go, but taking his strong performance from the practice field to the game field was a significant step.