Tag Archives: Patriots wide receiver injuries

As More Patriots WRs Go Down, It is Opportunity Time for the Remainder

Steve Balestrieri
August 15, 2019 at 7:33 am ET

At the conclusion of the first joint practice with the Titans on Tuesday, the state of the Patriots receiver corps was more notable on who wasn’t in attendance rather than who was. Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Josh Gordon [still suspended] tight end Matt LaCosse and N’Keal Harry were not there for the beginning of practice, although Harry was in uniform, he didn’t take part in any activities and quickly moved off to work with members of the training staff. 

Then during the session, both Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris each left with various ailments. That left a thin wide receiver grouping even thinner. Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Jarrett Stidham were left with Jakobi Meyers, Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Gunner Olszewski, Damoun Patterson, and Ryan Davis. 

It isn’t known if the dings that Dorsett and Harris took were heat-related or more serious. Dorsett was reported to have returned and rode a stationary bike at the end of the practice session. This is in addition to reports that running back Damien Harris is dealing with a wrist injury, which has limited his pass=catching ability.

But rather than looking at this as a red flag [as it would be during the regular season], this is a time of opportunity, a chance to earn more reps with the starting unit and carve out a role for themselves for the players on the field.

Meyers has been a very pleasant surprise as to how fast he’s caught on to the Patriots system as well as his versatility and production in the passing game. If there is an area where he could improve it would be in special teams. The coaches have been getting him some reps in the punt return game, which to date haven’t been all smooth. 

Berrios has thrived during joint sessions and the preseason game with the Lions and is carrying that momentum into this week in Tennessee. Berrios looked very good in the return game last week in Detroit and that alone may win him a spot among the final 53-man roster. Away from the smothering Jonathan Jones in team practices, Berrios has found room to move and made some nice plays in the passing game. 

Dontrelle Inman may be the biggest benefactor from the recent spate of injuries to the wide receivers. After a very forgettable spring, Inman found himself deep in the bowels of the depth chart at the beginning of training camp. He helped himself with some good work against the Detroit third teamers last week. 

Now he’ll get more reps with Brady and the first team unit today. If that means more playing time on Saturday night, then it is a chance to move up in the pecking order. If he can find the comfort level and chemistry with Brady that he showed late last season with Andrew Luck, he could force himself into a much better situation. Maurice Harris had a tremendous start to camp. But he had a couple of big drops in Detroit, [granted one was a clear defensive pass interference] and with him now possibly on the shelf, this allows Inman a chance to push him a bit. 

LaCosse’s ankle injury last week opened the door for the team to bring in the third-year tight end Eric Sauber that they picked up from the Falcons for a conditional 7th round draft pick. Sauber has the size, 6’5, 255 pounds and the athleticism to play special teams and to attack the seams of the defense. But the knock on him is his hands, “manos de piedra” which have precluded him from having any impact in the league.

Sauber should get more and more work in the passing game as the team tries to lighten the load on 38-year old Ben Watson. Ryan Izzo is known more as a blocker. Rookie Andrew Beck is being used more as a fullback/H-back and Stephen Anderson has seemingly become an afterthought in the passing game. 

But like anything else, opportunities arise and players have to take advantage of them. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Release Wide Receiver Malcolm Mitchell

Steve Balestrieri
August 6, 2018 at 3:11 pm ET

The Patriots are releasing wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, according to NFL insider Jason La Canfora.

Knee issues have dogged Mitchell since his playing days at Georgia and are the cause of his release. The Patriots tried unsuccessfully to shop Mitchell around this summer but his inability to get on the field had no interested parties.

Mitchell, who just turned 25, was a key contributor in the Patriots Super Bowl run in 2016. He caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, nearly all of it in the second half of the season. He missed part of that season with an elbow injury but came back and earned the trust of Tom Brady. He steadily gained confidence and was a huge part of the 4th quarter comeback against the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

He caught five passes for 63 yards in the second half of the Super Bowl.

His future looked bright, however,  the very same knee issues robbed him of 2017. He never made it onto the field last season and his knee woes held him to just a couple of all-too-brief cameos this spring. That led to the Patriots shopping him unsuccessfully.

The team can either convert him to IR again with an injury settlement or outright release him, depending upon the health of his knee. It is a case of oh-so-close for the talented wide receiver.

So where does this leave the team? In the short term, it immediately opens up a roster spot, despite the fact he hadn’t been practicing. That will be filled quickly. But it was clear before training camp even began that Mitchell wasn’t going to be in the team’s plans for 2018.

With Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Eric Decker, Kenny Britt, and younger players Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien and Paul Turner, they have enough depth to carry them through the season. Although Britt too has missed some valuable time this camp. Julian Edelman will miss the first month of the season due to his suspension.

As we posted in our 53-man roster projection this morning, Mitchell wasn’t on the roster and youngsters Berrios and McCarron were still on the outside looking in for a roster spot.

It is a shame to see a player as talented as Mitchell lose his career on an injury. But the chances of another team taking a flyer on him at this point would remain pretty slim.

What Does the Eric Decker Signing Mean for the Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
August 3, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

With the surprising news that Jordan Matthews’ injury was severe enough for the Patriots to place him on IR, the Patriots lost out on one of the key free agent signings they made this spring. The team ended up releasing Matthews, I’m thinking, at his request as he probably believes that he’ll be ready to go a lot sooner this season.

But back to the situation at hand, with Matthews gone, the Patriots saw this coming and worked Decker out before he was signed on Thursday. After nearly missing all of 2016 with the Jets, Decker signed with Tennessee and put decent but career low numbers since becoming an every-down player. He caught 54 passes for 563 yards (career-low 10.4 yards per reception) with just one touchdown. But he remains reliable, his 65 percent catch percentage was the second highest of his career.

Can he revert to something akin to his last two years with the Broncos or the first two with the Jets or has he permanently lost a step. Part of his stats could stem from the struggles of the Titans offense. Last season they were just 28th in passing attempts and 23rd in yardage. Catching passes from Tom Brady should be more akin to better stats than Marcus Mariota.

The biggest asset Decker brings to the Patriots is versatility. He can play outside as the Z- receiver or in the slot. As a slot guy, he’s much like Matthews, a bigger (6’3, 215 pounds) who relies on his size to box out smaller defenders. So how will the Patriots use Decker?

Without seeing him run yet in practice, I see Decker as the Z-wide receiver, not the X. He will be used to attack the middle depth routes and work the perimeter and the middle of the field. They can move him around to create matchups in the slot where he logged about 50 percent of the Titans’ snaps last year when the opportunity avails itself. Phillip Dorsett has been seeing a lot of reps in the slot this summer and he’s been one for the more impressive players on offense.

Right now, the wide receiver depth has Chris Hogan, Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Decker along with rookies Braxton Berrios and Darren Andrews with 2nd-year player Riley McCarron, and Paul Turner. Veteran Matthew Slater is a wide receiver in name only, he’s a special teamer. Veterans Kenny Britt and Matthew Mitchell are not practicing yet and are considered day to day. Julian Edelman will return to the team Week 5 when his suspension is finished.

Decker isn’t a lock to even make the team but I believe he’ll have enough in the tank to beat out one of the younger slot guys (Berrios/McCarron) but time will tell. He had just a tad of experience with Josh McDaniels in Denver during his rookie season.

While the loss of Matthews is a blow, we thought he’d be an integral member of the offense in 2018, it certainly isn’t a death knell. Why? The Patriots still have plenty of talent at the wide receiver position. They like Britt and he’s only a year removed from a 1000-yard season. Dorsett appears primed to shake off his first season blues and be a bigger contributor. Patterson is the wild card, he’s never been able to produce like he was thought to be when he arrived in the NFL. But the Patriots are intent on finding him a role.

And this team has so many other talented pass catchers at other positions. Rob Gronkowski is the gold standard among NFL tight ends. Jacob Hollister seems poised to make a big jump in production from Year 1 to Year 2 and has caught more passes from Brady this summer than anyone. And the production from Rex Burkhead, James White and Sony Michel at running back shouldn’t have anyone pushing the panic button.

So while I’d temper expectations a bit for Eric Decker right now, I think he’ll be fine here. He’s at the age where his one-year deal comes at a good time for him. He’ll be very visible with the Patriots nationally and could parlay this into one more good payday. I expect him to be a model teammate (unlike the other guy fans were clamoring for) and be “all-in” immediately.

While I have never been a big fan of Decker’s, the timing may be just right for him to come to New England and carve out a nice role for himself. His versatility will be a key facet in him being able to pick up the offense on the fly. Without being here all spring, and the first week of training camp, he’s well behind the rest of the receivers. However, it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with hard work.

Orchestrating all of this is Tom Brady, who has taken the Patriots deep in the playoffs and to a Super Bowl with far less talent than he has right now with this offense. The loss of Matthews and Edelman (for a month) is a blow but this team will be just fine. They always start off a bit slow anyway. No reason to panic and sound the alarm. In one aspect of this, they were fortunate that the injury happened in the first week of training camp rather than Week 9 or 10.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

What Can We Expect From Malcolm Mitchell At This Point of 2017?

Steve Balestrieri
December 28, 2017 at 9:26 am ET

The Patriots got some good news on Wednesday when wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell returned to practice from IR and the 21-day window has begun ticking. The Patriots have 21 days to either activate Mitchell to the 53-man roster or place him on season-ending IR.

Mike Giardi of NBC Boston said that while the Pats will take it day-to-day with Mitchell, he could be activated as early as Sunday in time to face the Jets in the 2017 regular season finale.

The bad news is that means Vincent Valentine will not be returning this year. And, once Mitchell is activated, that means another player would have to be released or placed on IR. That means possibly Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt or possibly Geneo Grissom could be cut loose. Or someone like Alan Branch, or possibly Rex Burkhead or even Chris Hogan could revert to IR.

The Patriots began practicing linebacker Shea McClellin off of IR in mid-season before he suffered a setback and was reverted to season-ending IR. Now, Mitchell is in the same boat.  

In a perfect world, Mitchell’s return would give Tom Brady and the offense a shot in the arm. In his rookie season, he started slowly due to an injury, but came on down the stretch and had a very effective Super Bowl against the Falcons where he caught six passes for 70 yards, most of it in the second half comeback.

Mitchell has decent speed but isn’t a burner. He’s a move the chains kind of guy who can make the tough catches against man coverage. With Hogan on the shelf, that is what the Patriots offense lacks. An outside possession receiver who can move the sticks against tight man coverage. Mitchell, if productive, opens up the large part of the field for Brandin Cooks. It would put a lot more pressure on opposing defenses who want to play that tight coverage where everything is contested underneath.

Right now, that guy is Rob Gronkowski, but teams are going to begin to double him. Danny Amendola is effective but works more inside.

Dorsett hasn’t caught on to the offense the way the team had hoped. He’s flashed at times but hasn’t been nearly consistent enough.

If the Patriots are going to release anyone my thoughts are it would be either Dorsett or Grissom who could easily revert to the practice squad. They signed Britt to a 2-year deal and he’d fit the mold for a bigger possession guy down the road. The Pats already have a speedier, more productive version of Dorsett in Cooks.

Mitchell, by way of his strong finish to the Super Bowl run a year ago, was the recipient of high hopes in 2017, but things haven’t worked out. He was injured all through training camp and never took the field once the season began. We won’t know how well his knee holds up until he actually begins playing. And then the question is, what can be considered reasonable expectations for him at this late juncture?

He hasn’t taken the field since training camp and even that was in a limited fashion. He really hasn’t taken meaningful snaps since February.

That’s why Sunday’s game, if he’s activated, will be so important. That’s the only action he’d get this season before the playoffs start. Which isn’t a lot of time to work off the rust. But it is what it is.

Like we mentioned above, in a perfect world, Mitchell would come back in mid-February form and Hogan returns healthy for the playoffs. But unfortunately, that world often doesn’t exist. The potential for the offense with those two healthy and productive is off the charts. Especially if Burkhead returns for the playoffs.

So, Sunday’s matchup will have a game within a game if Mitchell is activated. And a lot of eyes will be watching, not all of them from Foxboro.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Free Agent Profile – Brandon Gibson

Steve Balestrieri
February 3, 2016 at 12:00 pm ET

The Patriots suffered a slew of injuries in 2015, and ended up with 21 players on injured reserve. The wide receiver position was especially hard hit both early in the preseason and then during the regular season.

During the 2015 offseason the Patriots signed former Dolphin WR Brandon Gibson and the 28-year old 6’0 WR quickly caught on and was pushing hard for a roster spot before tearing his ACL in a preseason game with the Saints and being placed on IR.

Josh Boyce and Brian Tyms also were lost in preseason, Julian Edelman tweaked an ankle in early August and missed the entire preseason. Then Aaron Dobson lost another season to injury, Edelman broke his foot and missed the last two months of the regular season. Danny Amendola dealt with knee issues as did Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler. It wasn’t an easy season for the Patriots receiving core.

Gibson had two decent seasons as a Miami backup with 30 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, followed by 29 catches for 295 yards for a touchdown in 2014. He had a couple of solid seasons in St. Louis as well, catching 53 passes in 2010 and 51 for 691 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. From the early days of training camp, he put his nose to the grindstone and worked hard and strived to find that coveted comfort level with Brady.

It was in the second week of camp where due to injuries, he was getting a lot of work with Brady. On August 6, he was easily the best player on the field for the offense, catching seven catches from Brady including a beauty over the top of Malcolm Butler.

Brandon Gibson

From there on he seemed to be making plays every day on the hot, training camp practice fields. In the first preseason game he was targeted just four times but caught all four for 29 yards. In the second preseason game against New Orleans he was targeted nine times and caught eight for 68 yards.  Then came the injury.

“Just have to pray for the best, that’s all you can do,” Gibson said after the game that night.

Now the Patriots have decisions to make on not only Gibson but on Boyce and Dobson as well. They’re entering their fourth seasons and have yet to make an impact on the field as they were envisioned when they were drafted due to injuries. Tyms is another matter, as he seemed destined for a role as well as Gibson when he went down.

Why Gibson Will Return: Gibson has seen some success in the league with Miami and St. Louis and has shown he can put the work in and gain Brady’s trust. He won’t ever be a prolific receiver but he was and can be again a solid role player who can come in and contribute and can spot start when called upon.

He’ll only be 29 during training camp on August 13 and has a history with Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. He shouldn’t break the bank and at a minimum will provide solid competition for one of the backup wide receiver slots.

He’s the kind the veteran that the team needs as a backup that can step in and contribute whenever his number is called.

Why Gibson Won’t Return: The Patriots will undoubtedly look to upgrade their arsenal for Tom Brady in the 2016 and their plans may not involve Gibson. Especially if his knee isn’t all the way back yet once training camp starts.

There should be plenty of competition, Tyms, Boyce, Dobson as well as Chris Harper and DeAndre Carter will all be vying for spots on the roster. That is before they add any names via free agency and the 2016 NFL Draft.

In a numbers game, Gibson may find himself the odd man out.

Bottom Line: Gibson, barring any setback from his ACL tear should be ready to contribute in 2016. It makes sense to bring back the veteran who won’t cost much and is a proven NFL wide receiver.

For that reason, if he’s healthy this season there is a 70 percent chance that the team brings him back to the fold for this upcoming season. Then it will be up to him to once again show that he’s worthy of a roster spot.

Something tells me that he will be around in the beginning of September.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Leonard Hankerson Has 3 Weeks to Impress Patriots Staff

Steve Balestrieri
December 18, 2015 at 10:09 am ET

The Patriots added some depth at wide receiver this week by signing WR Leonard Hankerson off of waivers from the Atlanta Falcons.

Hankerson was originally drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2011 draft with the 79th pick in the 3rd round out of the University of Miami. Hankerson played four years with the Skins before signing a deal with the Falcons this spring.

Hankerson has 107 receptions in 39 career games for 1408 yards for a 12.6-yard average and nine touchdowns. In eight games for the Falcons he caught 26 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns.

He has good size at 6’2, 211 pounds and can box out defenders in the intermediate passing game. He also has 4.43 speed in the 40-yard dash. While not a burner, he can at times go deep and stretch the field vertically. At just age 26, he should be entering his prime but his problem has been one of durability. He’s had just one season (2012), where he played in all 16 games.

He logged two 30-catch seasons for Washington in 2012-13 so he does possess some decent ability. His issue will be how quickly he can assimilate into this offense, how he will fit in and can he stay healthy for the next three to six games.

Not a LaFell replacement: All of social media was abuzz that the Patriots signed Hankerson with the thought of replacing LaFell in the Patriots offense. While the two possess a similar skill set and size, he’s not here to replace LaFell but to augment the other options for Brady and the offense.

Hankerson’s best area to work is in the 5-15-yard range where he can use his size to box out defenders and post up. Unlike LaFell he has a bit better speed where if you choose to stretch the field vertically, he is built better for that.

But Hankerson’s value for the Patriots will be to allow both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to heal up if he can work his way into the offense. With Edelman likely out again this week and next, it will be a good time to see what Hankerson can do.

3-Weeks to Showcase Talent: He really has a three-week audition for the Patriots. If he can produce and become a reliable target during the games against the Titans, Dolphins and Jets, then he can work himself into a nice supporting role for the post-season.

He has a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to cover to learn the intricate Patriots offense and route tree for the wide receivers. Remember last spring and summer where LaFell struggled with it mightily until the season started. Hankerson won’t have that kind of time. But in reality you could see his role evolve somewhat if he’s able to stick around and stay healthy.

He will probably be a short-to-intermediate receiver now while Amendola and Edelman are still recovering from injury. But once they’re back in the fold completely, he could see some deeper routes to keep defenses honest and to open up some of the underneath routes.

His development will bear close watching in the next few weeks. But it was a low-risk, high reward signing. Bill Belichick’s old friend Thomas Dimitroff did him and the player a favor by releasing Hankerson off of IR. He could find a nice niche here if things work out.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.