By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
With the reported impending release of Mohamed Sanu, the Patriots now find themselves as thin at the wide receiver position as they’ve ever been in the Bill Belichick era.
Of the eight wide receivers who caught at least one pass for the Patriots last year, four of those players are now gone. Phillip Dorsett (29), Sanu (26), Josh Gordon (20), and Antonio Brown (4) accounted for 79 of the position’s 219 receptions.
As for the group remaining, Julian Edelman caught 100, with the now-second-year trio of Jakobi Meyers (26), N’Keal Harry (12), and Gunner Olszewski (2) hauling in a combined 40 passes.
Taking a look at how the 2020 depth chart is shaping up at the position, there are currently a lot of unknowns.
Clearly, the position is in flux just a week and a half from the opening game. It seems likely Bill Belichick will try to add to the unit before his team kicks off against Miami, but the question is how?
Belichick has a history of being active during cut down weekend, either seeking out players cut from other teams, or trading day three picks for those players before they’re cut to prevent them from hitting the open market. Keeping that in mind, here are some realistic targets that may either be released or traded in the coming days who could be on the Patriots radar:
Daurice Fountain, Indianapolis Colts
Physically, ‘Reece’ Fountain checks most of the boxes the Patriots look for at the position. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he has the size and body control to compete for and win just about any 50/50 ball when battling a cornerback. He’s capable after the catch too. More ‘quick’ and ‘fast,’ he can make tacklers miss in the open field and is a good fit for screens and end arounds.
So why may he be available? All of these observations are made based off of FCS tape. A fifth-round pick in 2018 out of Northern Iowa, Fountain played just three offensive snaps his rookie year and didn’t receive a single target. An ankle injury late in camp last year cost him his sophomore season.
With the addition of 2020 second-round pick Michael Pittman, the top of the Colts wide receiver depth chart is more or less set. Fountain is in a battle with three or four players for the remaining spots, and is seen by many in Indy as a practice squad candidate. If the Colts instead want to try and find a short term return on their investment, perhaps they’d send him to New England for a conditional seventh-round pick.
Keelan Doss, Las Vegas Raiders
Signed to fill Antonio Brown’s spot when the Raiders released him this time last year, Doss ending up with the Patriots really would be a full-circle event. A 2019 UDFA out of UC Davis, Doss could give the Patriots back some of the size they lost in Sanu. At 6-foot-3, he’s another big-body receiver who has a knack for winning contested catches. His hands as a whole were viewed as one of his best traits during last year’s draft process, as was his body control.
Like Fountain, his game is a work in progress, especially when it comes to route running. Still, he managed to catch 11 passes for 133 yards in eight games for the Raiders last year. He showed an ability to make things happen after the catch at the NFL level, something the Patriots always look for.
After the Raiders loaded up at the wide receiver position this offseason, it’s looking like Doss will be a one-and-done in black and silver. Could the Patriots give him his next shot?
Tajae Sharpe, Minnesota Vikings
The Patriots were heavily linked to Sharpe during the 2016 draft process, but the UMass product ended up being taken by the Tennessee Titans in the fifth round. After a very productive rookie season (41 catches, 522 yards, 2 TDs), Sharpe missed 2017 with a foot injury and while he returned as a regular contributor, he still has yet to match the production from his first year in the league.
The 25-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Vikings this spring, but due to the emergence of a few young players (the Vikings have their own Gunner Olszewski in Alexander Hollins), he’s on the bubble of their roster. A big-framed receiver (6-foot-2, 194 pounds) who excels in the middle of the field, he’d be an ideal candidate of the options remaining to fill Sanu’s role. The Patriots would likely need to find a trade here though if they want to secure his services, because if released he’d probably be one of the top receivers on the open market.
Chad Beebe, Minnesota Vikings
If the Vikings don’t want to part with Sharpe, perhaps the Patriots could target the player he’d likely end up beating out for the role in Beebe. A 2018 UDFA out of Northern Illinois, Beebe has played six games over the past two seasons in Minnesota. While his role has mostly been a special teams one as a punt returner, he did play 43 offensive snaps last season. And while he’s turned in a couple of impressive summers, both of his NFL seasons have ended with him on IR.
So on one hand, you have an oft-injured, undersized receiver with little experience on the offensive side of the ball. On the other hand, you have a two-phase player with reliable hands who comes from an NFL bloodline (he’s the son of Super Bowl winner Don Beebe). Know any local coaches who might be interested in the second part of that resume?
Hakeem Butler, Arizona Cardinals
A fourth-round pick out of Iowa State last spring, Butler would add yet another bully-ball mentality to the Patriots offense. At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, he clearly enjoys the more physical elements of the game.
A jump-ball and red zone receiver, he’d give the Patriots more size and strength to compete in a division loaded with big defensive backs. While he’s not exactly nimble and doesn’t have the softest hands, you can’t count him out of any 50/50 ball. Mostly an outside receiver, he played some slot in college similar to N’Keal Harry.
After not playing his rookie year due to a broken hand, he seems to be the odd man out after the Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins this offseason. Multiple roster projections from Arizona media have him off the final 53. Valued as a possible second round pick just 16 months ago, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Belichick ship out a conditional day three pick to kick the tires.
Austin Carr, New Orleans Saints
This name should sound familiar to Patriots fans. Carr was the story of Pats Camp in 2017, but ultimately failed to make the team because it was back when the Patriots had actual wide receiver depth (Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Malcolm Mitchell, etc.).
The Saints scooped him up, and he’s hung around New Orleans since in a reserve role. After the team added Emmanuel Sanders and Lil’Jordan Humphrey this spring, it was clear Carr would need to make a bigger impression in camp in 2020, something he failed to do. It’s likely he’ll be looking for a new job this weekend.
Familiarity shouldn’t be counted out in a season like this. He has a basic knowledge of the Patriots system and the team has an understanding of what he can bring to the table. Belichick is known to bring back players for second chances, and Carr fits the bill.
Look, is this bargain basement shopping? More or less, yeah. But that’s the reality of the Patriots situation. Other teams aren’t going to be giving away quality receiver talent at this time of year. Right now, the paths to having a reliable receiver line up opposite Julian Edelman are slim. N’Keal Harry is a possibility, but there are question marks. If he can’t make the year two jump, the Patriots would be well-served giving themselves as many alternative options as possible.
Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.