Some news and notes for this morning:
If Hopkins is in, who might be out?
With Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins reportedly set to visit this week, the next question could eventually be who the former Texans wideout might unseat should Bill Belichick make a compelling enough case for him to sign here.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, and DeVante Parker rounding out the top of the receiving depth chart, the obvious concern is that someone will have to be left as the odd man out.
The likely candidates might seemingly come down to potentially Bourne or Parker, as one would probably have to go to allow a spot for Hopkins on the roster.
While Bourne was the discussion of trade rumors at times last season, most of that seemed to stem from his issues with former offensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who is now obviously out of the picture.
All of that seems to be in the rearview, and Bourne was spotted in a variety of videos working hard this offseason, and he’s been reportedly been fairly active in what few sessions that have been open to the media.
Meanwhile, Parker battled injuries for most of last season, and his style of play could potentially make him the piece that could be most affected by Hopkins signing. While Bourne can play both inside and out, Parker is more of the boundary player that Hopkins is, with Parker’s value seemingly centered around his physical size (6’3″, 209lbs) and his ability to make contested catches.
Hopkins is the better of the two when it comes to separation, with the wideout even more dynamic when it comes to making contested plays. In a “gotta have it” moment, that’s an area where Hopkins excels, and he’s the type of player who would certainly be the threat New England is still lacking at this point.
All you need to do is go back and look at the Week 14 meeting in Arizona last year. The Patriots had tight coverage for most of the night as Hopkins hauled in 7 passes for 79-yards in that contest, and he also made a ridiculous one-handed grab in the back of the end zone between Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, and Adrian Phillips, where Hopkins’ foot was just out of bounds for the would-be touchdown.
Still, that’s the type of player he is, and he would definitely be a guy who would be a big upgrade.
Parker’s health has also been an issue. His availability last year late was an issue as he had a tough time staying healthy, and he and Mac Jones had a difficult time connecting as most of Jones’ interceptions during the early part of last year came while targeting Parker. The two had a little more success later in the year, but they still never really consistently clicked.
The veteran is also in a spot where the club could save $6 million in cap space by parting ways with him.
For now, the bigger question would be how the Patriots view the two players. If they’re happy with Bourne and it’s just about the financial side of things, then that would seemingly point to Parker being the odd man out.
At the same time, Belichick loves adding draft currency and it’s possible that if there remains any frustration with Bourne thanks to his comments last year – and even this offseason (more on that in a bit) – maybe Belichick would move him in exchange for building chips for the future.
Granted, all of that is just speculation for a move that hasn’t even happened yet. But should Hopkins end up a Patriot, something will need to give and it’s just a question of who the odd man out will ultimately be.
Bourne Upbeat So Far
Bourne has been fairly upbeat so far this offseason, with the veteran likely excited about having the opportunity to recapture some of the magic that saw him rack up 800 receiving yards in 2021 when he was a bigger part of the offense.
Clearly, last season, he ended up on the wrong side of things with Patricia, with the veteran spending a lot of the early part of the season and even later in the year in the “doghouse,” which saw a radical drop off in his targets.
To put it in perspective, the first half of last year was pretty telling. Through 8 weeks in 2021, Bourne had 35 targets with 26 receptions and two touchdowns, as well as even being used on a trick play where he had a passing touchdown under Josh McDaniels.
In 2022, he had just 15 targets and 11 receptions over that same span, while seeing his snap counts remain under 50% in all but one game (vs Detroit – 57%) over that span. It all started with the fact he had just two snaps in the opener against Miami, with Bourne hauling in a late 41-yard bomb in a loss against the Dolphins.
That really never changed, as Bourne’s playing time was limited through much of the year, with the exception of later in the season when he was called on as the team weathered injuries at the position.
Why that was, remains a mystery.
That entire mess is fairly well documented, and fortunately, the page is turned and the focus now is getting back to where he was prior to the mess that was last season.
His biggest issue is he’s been and remains a little too honest speaking to the media. Last week, Bourne was asked about Bill O’Brien, who he seems to really like so far.
“He’s doing well,” said Bourne. “He knows how to engage with all of us, I feel like. He knows our traits right now, and he knows where to put us, so it’s been good. We’re still learning each other as a group, but he’s doing well. You can tell, he knows what he’s doing.”
Tom Curran of NBC Boston asked Bourne to elaborate given how that statement will obviously be interpreted, yet Bourne essentially confirmed exactly how it sounded.
“It just feels good. Change is good. It’s something we needed, I feel like, and it’s good. It feels good so far. If that’s what it’s gonna be, then it’s better so far.”
While it’s yet another thinly veiled shot at his now former coach, the fact remains that he’s definitely in a better place compared to this time last year. And that can only be a positive for a team looking to rebound heading into 2023.
Thornton Dealing With an Injury
Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston reported in his Sunday column that Tyquan Thornton’s recent absence has come due to the fact he’s dealing with an injury.
According to Reiss, Thornton is managing a “soft-tissue” injury, which comes after the second-year wideout out of Baylor had been fairly active during the early part of OTAs.
It’s already been a tough road for the speedy receiver, who was knocked out before the season even started in 2022. Thornton suffered a fractured collarbone in the preseason that knocked him out of action, causing him to miss the first four weeks of 2023.
Like Bourne, his playing time increased later in the year as the club dealt with injuries at the position, with Thornton playing in over 80% of the snaps in four out of the final give games of last season.
He never broke through the way he likely wanted to and the hope was that the work he put in this offseason to bulk up and get stronger would see him improve in his sophomore season.
Instead, it looks like he’s already battling a bit, which will definitely be something to keep an eye on.
Mapu Continues to Stand Out
While rookie Marte Mapu has already made some noise early on, it appears he’s gaining some momentum.
He’s reportedly spent time at both linebacker and free safety thus far, with his speed and explosiveness being two traits that seem to be making people take notice.
His instincts have reportedly been impressive, with the rookie often seeing the play unfold and then exploding toward the ball carrier and making the play, albeit they’ve yet to allow any tackling to this point, and Mapu has also been sporting a red non-contact jersey.
Mapu was known as a hard-hitter in college and given what he’s shown to this point, he just seems like a guy who will be flying around the field and making some hits when we see him in camp.
It’s worth noting that coming off that difficult finish in 2021, the focus has remained getting faster on defense and 2022 had already seen some significant strides in that area.
So far, the young standout from Sacramento State has also been a great addition, and if what we’ve heard is any indication, it feels like the Patriots are definitely headed in the right direction as we continue getting closer to the 2023 season.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Bill Belichick Bill O'Brien DeAndre Hopkins Devante Parker Kendrick Bourne Marte Mapu Matt Patricia Tyquan Thornton