New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

L-R: DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster (Eric Canha/Mark J. Reblias/USA Today Sports)

The New England Patriots have a deep group and a legitimate competition on the wide receiver depth chart for 2023. While they may lack a superstar at the position, they have enough players with talent or upside that they can’t afford to just cut.

So, it’s worth another look at the Patriots’ wide receiver depth charts after two-plus weeks of training camp, and where the roster battles stand entering the preseason. Here’s a rundown of the Pats’ receiver group…

Overall Depth Chart

New England Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster makes a catch during 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

New England Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster makes a catch during 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

JuJu Smith-Schuster
DeVante Parker
Kendrick Bourne
Demario Douglas
Tyquan Thornton
Kayshon Boutte
Ty Montgomery
Tre Nixon
Malik Cunningham
Raleigh Webb
Thyrick Pitts

The Patriots may only carry five wide receivers on the 53-man roster, maybe six. There could be an interesting squeeze coming, for that reason.

Smith-Schuster projects as the team leader in targets, as the primary slot receiver and, possibly, Mac Jones’ primary target in general. Parker and Bourne project as the starters and snap leaders on the outside. Douglas, meanwhile, has made a real push past Thornton in the pecking order, and even Boutte has come on strong over the past week of practices.

Jul 26, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots New England Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas (60) makes a catch during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 26, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots New England Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas (60) makes a catch during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The rise of the sixth-round rookies, and Thornton’s apparent regression, have created a bit of a logjam on the depth chart after Bourne. If the Pats only want to roster five wide receivers, it’s going to force a tough decision. They would have to cut or redshirt a younger receiver (ie. put him on IR), or make a surprise trade.

Montgomery is a wild card. He’s worked mainly with the receivers, but would be used a lot like a pass-catching back. Overall, it’s becoming an interesting finish to the off-season, as to how Bill Belichick will assemble his roster.

  • “X” Wide Receiver

    ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 08: DeVante Parker #1 of the New England Patriots catches a touchdown pass over Kaiir Elam #24 of the Buffalo Bills during the fourth quarter at Highmark Stadium on January 08, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

    DeVante Parker of the New England Patriots catches a touchdown pass over Kaiir Elam of the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 8, 2023. (Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

    DeVante Parker
    Tyquan Thornton
    Kayshon Boutte

    Parker projects to play a high percentage of snaps, mainly because he’s clearly the best option at the starting “X” outside spot. He’ll be depended on perhaps more than anyone for big plays down the field. But he will also play in two-receiver sets and as a blocker in the run game, so we expect him to be on the field a lot.

    Thornton’s quiet camp has clearly slid him back in the hierarchy. Boutte has seemingly improved every day since picking up momentum last week, making him an interesting case in terms of his roster spot. He and Douglas feel like they’ve shown enough to draw interest around the league if they are waived. They have made this roster battle fun to watch lately.

    Smith-Schuster and Bourne can also be expected to line up at the “X” at times, as new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien mixes up his personnel groupings and route combinations from drive to drive, play to play. But Parker is the main man at this particular spot, at the moment.

  • Slot Receiver

    Jul 26, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (7) makes a catch during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    New England Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster makes a catch during 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    JuJu Smith-Schuster
    Demario Douglas
    Raleigh Webb

    Smith-Schuster should get the majority of his snaps at the “Y” as the Pats’ primary slot receiver. He’ll also line up at different spots with a diverse route tree, but he’ll make his bread over the middle of the field. If things click well with Mac Jones, Smith-Schuster is the true engine of the offense.

    Douglas has played so well in camp that he’s almost forcing his way onto the field. He looks like the best choice as the No. 4 overall wide receiver at this point in camp, but realistically, he will have to make plays inside. The Patriots have lacked a true slot receiver with a skill set like Douglas’ for years now.

    Webb may make the team as a core special teamer and has occasionally surprised with a nice-looking catch against the backups, but right now he’s no more than en emergency option on offense.

  • “Z” Wide Receiver

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 24: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots catches a touchdown over Cam Taylor-Britt #29 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    Kendrick Bourne of the New England Patriots catches a touchdown over Cam Taylor-Britt of the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 24, 2022. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    Kendrick Bourne
    Tyquan Thornton
    Kayshon Boutte

    Thornton’s best hope of seeing a lot of snaps early in 2023 is to push Bourne for a spot at the “Z” opposite Parker. Problem is, in addition to the two rookies, Bourne has picked up steam himself in recent practices with some productive team drill periods. Bourne seems to be in a good place, both for his own sake and with Belichick and the coaching staff.

    Much like Bourne will occasionally line up at the “X,” Parker will be seen here at times as well. Every receiver on the roster has lined up somewhere on the outside at points in camp. Bourne is still the leader in the clubhouse to be rolled out as the primary “Z” option.

    Nixon, Cunningham, and Pitts are all longshots to make the roster, but should have shots to make the practice squad and would mainly line up outside, if and when they play. You can expect to see all three of them in the preseason, starting with Thursday night’s opener against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium.

  • Tight Ends

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 01: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots catches a pass against Jevon Holland #8 of the Miami Dolphins during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    Hunter Henry of the New England Patriots catches a pass against Jevon Holland of the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 1, 2023. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    The Patriots may be relatively thin on slot receivers, but they will make up for it by using tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki as big slots. Both Henry and Gesicki can line up in-line, in the slot, or split out wide. If all goes well, look for them to make their most noise down the seam and in the red zone.

    As for a possible third tight end spot on the roster, Matt Sokol looks to be in the lead. He’s gotten the most practice reps with the starters, whether as a blocker or receiver, other than Henry or Gesicki. Anthony Firkser, Scotty Washington, and Johnny Lumpkin round out that depth chart.

  • Running Backs

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 18: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots rushes for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    Rhamondre Stevenson of the New England Patriots runs for a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on Dec. 18, 2022. (Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    Rhamondre Stevenson is poised to again lead Patriots running backs in touches, even as the team appears to be easing his workload heading into the season. He remains their top option at running back both on the ground and through the air, where he’s caught a lot of checkdowns and dump-offs in team drills.

    However, second-year back Pierre Strong Jr. has seen a good share of reps with the starters in passing game coordination sessions, so expect him to see an uptick in playing time in year 2 after a quiet rookie campaign.

    Kevin Harris seems like he will be used much more as a runner than a pass-catcher, but has occasionally mixed in with the passing game in 11-on-11. If he can stay healthy, Ty Montgomery figures to be a factor with his experience as well, but good health is always a big question with him.

  • What To Expect

    ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 08: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots and Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots celebrate with DeVante Parker #1 of the New England Patriots after Parker's receiving touchdown during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on January 08, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    Kendrick Bourne and Mac Jones of the New England Patriots celebrate with DeVante Parker after Parker’s receiving touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 8, 2023. (Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    When the Patriots come out in “11” personnel – one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers – this looks to be their optimal group:

    RB: Rhamondre Stevenson
    TE: Hunter Henry
    WR: DeVante Parker – JuJu Smith Schuster – Kendrick Bourne

    That’s the most likely package in high-leverage passing situations like third down and red zone.

  • Aug 3, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Mike Gesicki (88) makes a catch during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    New England Patriots tight end Mike Gesicki (88) makes a catch during training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    You can also expect more “12” personnel (one RB, two TEs, two WRs) than we’ve seen in recent seasons. It’s a personnel package that they’ve surprisingly only dabbled in lately, despite investing a lot of money into the tight end position. Basically swap in Gesicki for Bourne, and you have your base “12” package.

    As for four receivers, empty backfields? Douglas has made a real charge into that fourth receiver spot, which will continue to make things interesting for him, Thornton, and Boutte. And Belichick and O’Brien, for that matter.

  • LISTEN: Patriots Training Camp Recap With Zack Cox

    (Click here to subscribe to Patriots Audio on 98.5 The Sports Hub.)

  • Click here for complete New England Patriots coverage at 985TheSportsHub.com.

    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

Sign me up for the 98.5 The Sports Hub email newsletter!

Get the latest Boston sports news and analysis, plus exclusive on-demand content and special giveaways from Boston's Home for Sports, 98.5 The Sports Hub.

*
*
By clicking "Subscribe" I agree to the website's terms of Service and Privacy Policy. I understand I can unsubscribe at any time.