How quickly things change.
After coming into the season with one of the deepest wide receiving groups in the NFL, injuries at the position have left the Patriots with a lack of depth at the position.
After injuries to Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, and, most recently, Danny Amendola, the Patriots only have 3 healthy wide receivers on their active roster.
I’m excluding Matthew Slater, who is almost exclusively a special teams player and has missed practice this week.
Even if Amendola is able to get healthy for the Saints on Sunday, the Patriots will likely limit his snap count due to his age and injury history (he only played on 23.79% of the team’s offensive snaps last year). Because of this the team would like to have a rotational piece to work in tandem with him.
Here’s a look at how the Pats can address their WR depth issues.
It’s not often the Patriots look for established, flashy names besides their own in free agency but these aren’t ordinary circumstances. One wideout the Patriots can attempt to bring in for help is the recently retired Anquan Boldin.
After Edelman’s injury, reports resurfaced that Boldin remained “intrigued by the possibility” of joining the Patriots after the sides showed mutual interest in the offseason.
Boldin would be a perfect replacement for Edelman as he operates mainly out of the slot. In addition to that, his 72.3 catch rate last year was right behind Edelman’s at 72.4.
The major hold-up with the idea of Boldin in New England is that if he were to unretire, he’d still be under contract with a division rival, the Bills.
They would either have to release him or New England would have to trade something for him, both unlikely scenarios. The idea of Boldin in New England is likely just a pipe dream.
Several far less established options remain on the free agent market. Guys like Dorial Green-Beckham, Victor Cruz, Stevie Johnson. Even former Patriot Aaron Dobson is available.
The options aren’t great but the Patriot simply need bodies at the position.
The “next man up” mentality is one of the most common and popular mantras in football and no one adheres to that mentality like Bill Belichick. It’s most likely that the Patriots end up addressing the issue of wide receiver depth in-house.
Look for the recently acquired Phillip Dorsett to play a larger role for New England in the coming weeks.
He received only one target against the Chiefs in week 1. However, as he becomes more comfortable, learns the Patriots’ playbook, and develops chemistry with Tom Brady, he figures to become a bigger part in the offense.
Brandin Cooks also stands to see his role grow even more.
He was mainly utilized as a field stretcher and deep threat against the Chiefs in week one. However he could stand to see more work in the short and intermediate game. Meaning he could see more targets in the middle of the field.
The Patriots could also look to their practice squad and promote some of their young wide receivers.
Demarcus Ayers, a second-year pro from the University of Houston, recorded 6 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown in two games with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year.
This year his salary is $170,000 which is above average for a practice squad player. This could potentially be signaling that he’s in the team’s plans going forward.
Rookie wideout Cody Hollister could also figure into the Patriots plans at the position.
Bill Belichick is unpredictable.
There are a number of ways New England could address the question of wide receiver. For all we know, he could go sign some undrafted free agent of the street to solve the problem.
It’s also possible that the team could simply utilize more two-tight end sets. We could also see the running backs used even more in the passing game.
No matter how the Patriots address their current lack of wide receivers, it should be interesting how everything plays out going forward as they wait for Mitchell and Amendola’s return to health.