By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Just a year ago, the New England Patriots had a receiving corps that many thought would rival that of the borderline unstoppable 2007 team that came just one Super Bowl victory shy of pulling off a 19-0 season.
Since then, though, Brandin Cooks has been traded to the Los Angeles Rams, Danny Amendola chased financial security to Miami (and has not held back when asked for his thoughts on New England), and those that hung around are all a year older. And even one of the players the Patriots signed with the hope of replacing a Cooks or an Amendola, Jordan Matthews, failed to make it out of training camp. Kenny Britt, meanwhile, is still on the shelf with an apparent hamstring injury. Malcolm Mitchell, meanwhile, is still trying to make what seems like an Everest-esque climb back to 100 percent.
That desperation forced the Patriots to sign free agent wideout Eric Decker on Thursday.
This, of course, comes after the 31-year-old Decker was in Foxboro for a Monday workout with the team. The 6-foot-3 wideout spent the 2017 season with the Titans, where he suited up in all 16 regular-season games and totaled 54 catches on 83 targets for 563 yards and a touchdown. Decker then added eight catches and 106 yards and a score in Tennessee’s two-game postseason run, including a six-catch, 85-yard effort in chilly Foxboro in the divisional round.
His lone playoff score was the game-winner in Tennessee’s upset win over the Chiefs in the wild card round.
For the Patriots, it’s a classic ‘see what you got’ signing of a veteran that’s had absurd success half a decade ago.
But beyond Decker, what exactly do the Patriots have in their loaded in body count only wideout group?
No. 10, Devin Lucien – A seventh-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2016, Lucien is going through what is his third training camp with the Patriots, but after what was a wild ride of a 2017 season. After failing to make the team after a strong 2017 preseason that included nine catches for 136 yards and a touchdown, it was an injury that helped accelerate Lucien’s exit from the Patriots by way of a waiving. From there, Lucien bounced around practice squads of the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs then released him this past May, and it was back in Foxboro that Lucien just before the official start of training camp. The 6-foot-2 wideout has still yet to play in an NFL game.
No. 11, Julian Edelman – Tom Brady’s No. 1 target for years now, Edelman missed all of last season due to a torn ACL suffered in the preseason, and will miss the first four games of the regular season due to a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. But those that have been able to catch Edelman on the field throughout OTAs and training camp do not seem to worry about Edelman’s effectiveness upon his return, as he looks as dialed in as ever. The 32-year-old Edelman established career-highs in targets (159) and yards (1,106) in a 16-game 2016 season.
No. 13, Phillip Dorsett – Acquired from the Colts last season in exchange for third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett, last year was all about learning for the 2015 first-rounder out of Miami. In action for 15 games with the Patriots last season, Dorsett was seldom targeted (Brady threw his way just 18 times), and he totaled just 12 catches and 194 yards. Dorsett has been a big part of the New England offense early in training camp, though, and could look to build on what was a relatively successful finish to last season, with Dorsett hauling in six of his nine targets for 100 yards in all.
No. 15, Chris Hogan – With Edelman out for the first four games of the season, and given his rapport with Brady compared to the rest, Chris Hogan has essentially become New England’s No. 1 wide receiver by default.
It could be a lot worse, all things considered. Despite being limited to just nine games last season, Hogan set career-highs in receiving yards per game (48.5) and touchdowns (five), and added six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LII. Of all the receiving options left at the wideout spot, Hogan may be the most entrenched in the infamous Brady ‘circle of trust,’ and overall may be second to just Rob Gronkowski in this circle.
No. 17, Riley McCarron – An undrafted free agent first signed (but then released) by the Houston Texans, McCarron spent his entire rookie season on New England’s practice squad. But with Edelman on the shelf for the first four games of the season, it’s entirely possible that McCarron will get an opportunity to carve out a role as a potential slot receiving option.
No. 18, Matthew Slater – New England’s special teams captain, it almost looked as if Slater was bound to take his talents elsewhere this past offseason. He even took a meeting with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, but ultimately decided to stay for another season with the Patriots. But calling Slater is a receiving option is absolutely absurd, as Slater has caught one pass in his 11-year NFL career with the Patriots (a 46-yard strike in 2011), and has not been targeted with a pass since 2016.
No. 19, Malcolm Mitchell – On the shelf for the entire 2017 season due to a knee injury, Mitchell’s status with the Patriots seems entirely up in the air. After rumors that the Patriots were looking to facilitate a trade to move Mitchell out of Foxboro and/or looking to release him, Mitchell made a return to the practice field, and has since been labeled day-to-day. Health is the biggest question mark with Mitchell, of course, but it’s clear that he has immense value to the Patriot offense when healthy (see: the countless clutch grabs the Georgia-born wideout came up with late in the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI comeback win).
No. 55, Braxton Berrios – A 5-foot-9, sixth-round pick of the Patriots, everybody seems to fall over themselves to compare Berrios to Edelman or even Wes Welker. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick wants to pump the brakes there. And then some.
“We’ll see how it goes with Braxton,” Belichick said last weekend. “He wasn’t able to do a lot for us this spring, so this is really our first lengthy exposure to him in our system, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Berrios led all Miami Hurricane receivers in catches (55), yards (679), and touchdowns (nine) last season.
No. 84, Cordarrelle Patterson – A kick-returning specialist, Patterson has come through with some highlight-reel catches in training camp, and could be a surprise boost in the passing game. Patterson grabbed 31 of his 42 targets with the Raiders a season ago, and added 121 rushing yards (and two touchdowns) on 13 carries. That kind of versatility goes a long way in a New England attack that loves trickery and using their players in seemingly unconventional ways.
No. 85, Kenny Britt – The 6-foot-3 Britt entered the season as a sleeper pick of sorts to have a big impact in the New England offense, but he’s been unable to get on the field due to an aforementioned hamstring injury. Considering the fact that the Patriots are Matthews’ing him off the roster, it’s obvious that Belichick and Co. still believe he’ll have a big impact on the offense upon his return to the field. Britt had 20 catches, 256 yards, and two scores between the Browns and Pats last year.
No. 86, Paul Turner – Signed last week (and with veteran tight end Troy Niklas cut to make room for him on the Patriot roster), Turner comes to the Patriots after missing the entire 2017 season following Philadelphia’s decision to waive him. Turner was signed to a futures contract by the New Orleans Saints in January, but was waived by June. The 5-foot-10 receiver had nine catches for 126 yards (his longest reception being 41 yards) in four games for the Eagles in 2016.
While he waits for an invitation for a workout at wideout, Ty Anderson works as 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 Ty? Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.