By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Braxton Berrios has gotten plenty of attention in the 2018 offseason as possibly the Patriots’ next slot receiver. And now that Julian Edelman faces a four-game suspension for PEDs, Tom Brady is likely going to need another slot target to start the 2018 season.
Except it’s not likely to be Berrios. Not in 2018, anyway. Based on mandatory minicamp, it’s actually Riley McCarron who could be that guy.
Originally signed by the Houston Texans as an undrafted rookie in 2017, McCarron spent a couple of weeks on their practice squad before being released on Sept. 18. The Patriots signed him just four days later to their own practice squad, where he spent the rest of his rookie season. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien described McCarron as “the spitting image of Wes Welker” after the Pats signed him, which happened during the same week that the two teams squared off in Foxboro.
It turns out that the addition of McCarron was about more than just information-gathering. He got a noticeable amount of reps on offense for the Patriots during mandatory minicamp, at times catching passes from Tom Brady in both individual and team drills. He got even more on Thursday, while Edelman spent a peculiar (at the time) amount of snaps away from the first team offense.
McCarron, who spoke to reporters after practice mere minutes before the Edelman news dropped, is just trying to find a way to fit on the roster just like the majority of the players in camp.
“I’m just trying to carve out a role,” McCarron said. “Obviously there’s been a great group of guys out here in the past. Like I said, just continue to learn and try to carve out a role.”
Another area where McCarron will have a chance to earn a role is on special teams. He consistently received the ball as both a kick returner (behind Cordarrelle Patterson) and as the primary punt returner. He did both during his time at Iowa.
Now that Edelman will most likely have to sit the first four games of the season, that opens the door for McCarron to play a similar role in the offense. He’d still fall behind Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and perhaps Cordarrelle Patterson and Jordan Matthews as well in the receiver pecking order. Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell are still with the team despite missing most of minicamp as they battle injuries.
However, McCarron (as well as Berrios) comes closer to fitting the Edelman mold than the other guys. Matthews and Hogan won’t be afraid to catch passes over the middle, but Matthews has more size at 6-foot-3 and isn’t your typical Patriots slot receiver, while Hogan still works best as an outside guy for Brady.
McCarron was already emerging as a player to watch for the rest of OTAs and training camp before the season. Now that the door is ajar for him to seize a legit role in the slot, the attention should only grow moving forward.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.