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Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon and the New England Patriots Wide Receivers

How does the arrival of Josh Gordon and the activation of Demaryius Thomas affect the New England Patriots wide receiver depth chart?
Demaryius Thomas

The New England Patriots went from not having enough wide receivers to having too many in less than a week. Shortly after the league reinstated Josh Gordon, the Patriots took Demaryius Thomas off the Physically Unable to Perform list. Thomas wasn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season, but he’s apparently ahead in the recovery process. With all the added bodies, let’s take a look at the updated Patriots wide receiver depth chart with Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon.

How Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon Fit in New England Patriots Wide Receiver Depth Chart

The Starters: Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon*

Technically, Josh Gordon is not yet eligible to play in the regular season. The talented wideout is still on the Non-Football Injury list and, as such, technically could not play if the season started tomorrow. However, Gordon should be ready for the start of the regular season and should start opposite Julian Edelman. Edelman and Gordon have the potential to be one of the best starting duos in football, even if Gordon could leave at a moments’ notice.

Edelman is easily Tom Brady’s favorite target and the most reliable chain-mover on the team. The reigning Super Bowl MVP suffered a thumb injury in the offseason but recently returned to practice. As long as he’s on the field, Edelman will be the top option in the passing game. Gordon, meanwhile, possesses the size, speed, and all-around talent to win at any level of the field. His 18.0 yards-per-reception is the best of any Brady receiver with 50 or more targets, and he’s already earned a remarkable amount of Brady’s trust. If these two can play a full 16-game season (big “if”), the Patriots should have a top-10 receiving duo.

The Immediate Depth: Demaryius Thomas, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers

Thomas might be back, but he’s not ready to have a spot in the starting lineup. Thomas was one of the better receivers of his time, but he’s coming off an Achilles injury and on the wrong side of 30. When factoring in that he still needs to develop chemistry with Tom Brady, it’s safe to assume Thomas won’t have a big role out of the gate. That said, he played well in 2018 and is healthy enough to come off of the PUP. Receiver depth is not an issue in New England, so the Patriots wouldn’t have activated him if he wasn’t ready to contribute. Look for Thomas to be the first receiver off the bench when New England runs three-receiver sets.

N’Keal Harry has a bright future in this league, but he’ll probably ease his way into the NFL. New England’s first-round pick suffered a minor injury in the preseason opener and hasn’t seen much action in recent weeks. He should be fine for the start of the season, but New England doesn’t want to risk anything. This extended absence, combined with the natural difficulties of being a rookie in New England’s system, means he probably will start the year as New England’s fourth receiver.

Undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers is the star of the preseason and has played his way into a roster spot. While he’s currently at the bottom of the depth chart, he still belongs in the NFL. Meyers has the ability to line up all over the formation, is a sound route runner, and excels at using his size and leverage to win contested catches. He’s a few injuries away from seeing the field, but he’s an NFL-caliber receiver.

Fighting for One Spot: Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris

The Patriots typically carry six receivers on the active roster, including special teamer Matthew Slater. Theoretically, that means the trio of Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, and Maurice Harris are on the outside looking in. However, the Patriots should consider carrying seven into the regular season. While the wide receivers carry a high ceiling, they also have a low floor. Julian Edelman has only played two full 16-game seasons, Demaryius Thomas is coming off an Achilles injury, Josh Gordon has his suspension woes, and N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers are rookies. There is a not-too-distant world where three or four of those players struggle, and New England needs as much depth as they can get.

If the Patriots want familiarity, the Phillip Dorsett is the man for the job. Dorsett was remarkably effective when targeted and has a strong working knowledge of the playbook. Braxton Berrios, meanwhile, provides some insurance in case of a Julian Edelman injury. Berrios isn’t nearly as good as Edelman, but he’s a similar player with a comparable skillset. That said, Harry and Meyers both have the ability to line up in the slot, even if they have a different play style than Edelman.

Maurice Harris impressed in minicamps but didn’t do much in training camp. Additionally, the former Washington Redskin suffered a knee injury and it will “be a while” before he comes back. New England could place him on the short-term injured reserve and bring him back for the second half of 2019.

Final Depth Projection

The first five are locks, but New England should carry a sixth true receiver given the questions at the position. If any of the final three make the roster, it’s going to be Dorsett. New England could use his reliability and knowledge of the offense, even if he won’t play a big role. Berrios is one of the hardest cuts to make, but he has a decent chance of making it through to the practice squad.

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