By Sterling Pingree
The mood is tense around Patriots nation lately over the lack of depth at receiver. Edelman is out for the first four weeks with a suspension, Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell both got cut and the only addition to the corps is Eric Decker. Guess who’s had a miserable camp? Eric Decker. Where does this leave resources through the first four weeks?
Panic is understandable when you glance at the Patriots depth at receiver: Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett. Hogan was tremendous last season especially early in the season in the absence of Edelman (injury) but after that there are enough question marks to give the Riddler a new wardrobe. Patterson is going to be a fascinating player to follow this season, but as your number two WR? Seems dubious. Dorsett really never found his footing in 2017 with the Patriots, but seems to have gelled a bit more with Tom Brady during training camp. I actually think Dorsett could have a productive, yet inconsistent, second season in Foxboro.
Eric Decker is a wild card, on almost any other team, if you were left with no options, the free agent signing would automatically make the team. This isn’t true under Bill Belichick. Just because the Patriots have positional weakness doesn’t mean that “The Hooded One” will accept less. My gut tells me that Decker isn’t going to make this team and fans will lose their minds because of the small number of guys at receiver but as we know with McDaniels’ offense, receivers are only a small piece of the passing game.
The forgotten guy, as weird as it sounds is Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is finally healthy to start a season and will see a lot of action in Edelman’s absence. Usually Gronk is brought along slowly and relied on more and more as the season moves on, but these circumstances are very different. Remember 2016 though when Brady was suspended the first four games of the season, Gronk was brought along very slowly and didn’t play with Jimmy G. 2018 will be a true test of how the Patriots handle Gronkowski and use him out of necessity.
The Patriots’ offense revolves a lot around the short passing game and are flush with pass catching running backs. James White, Rex Burkhead and new addition Jeremy Hill can all be very dangerous in the underneath and screen passing game. It’s been the bread and butter of the Patriots since Belichick took over in 2000 and we may see a more up tempo West Coast style of offense even without Dion Lewis.
While it seems odd that the Patriots are very thin at wide out to start the season, that doesn’t mean that they are thin in the passing game. The 3 of the first 4 games will be really tough and I wouldn’t be surprised if this team started 2-2 like they did last season. However, there is reason that even with a .500 September the Patriots can pick up steam in week 5 when Edelman returns to the lineup. Throw in the possibility of first round draft pick Sony Michel adding a spark and the Patriots will still be the Patriots.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveshowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.