FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Perhaps the thing that stood out more than any other during the New England Patriots’ organized team activity on Tuesday was the presence of wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is coming back from a torn ACL suffered last August.
Nicknamed “The Squirrel," Edelman brings a high level of competitiveness that has been noted by his teammates.
“Having him out there brings leadership to this team. He brings excitement to this team, and he brings an aggressive nature to this team,” safety Duron Harmon said. “Having him out here makes the team better.”
Edelman, whose competitiveness was shown when at one point he reinserted himself into a drill to do it again after he had a misstep, leads the team’s receiving corps. He forms a 1-2 punch with sixth-year veteran Chris Hogan atop the depth chart.
But what about after Edelman and Hogan?
Tuesday offered a sneak preview of what could be one of the more intriguing position battles across the NFL.
Lock in Patterson. Sixth-year veteran Cordarrelle Patterson, at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, stands out with size that is uncommon at the position. I have him as a lock to make the team, primarily because of his value as a kickoff returner and gunner. How much impact he might have on offense is a developing picture, but he’s clearly going to get a chance to show what he can do.
Don’t sleep on Britt. If asked the question who was the receiver who stood out most on Tuesday, 10-year veteran Kenny Britt would be the choice. Like Patterson, at 6-3 and 223 pounds, he has plus size at the position and I thought he was running well. I like his chances to make the team, and make an impact.
Something about Dorsett. When I watch Phillip Dorsett, part of his game reminds me of Deion Branch, while part reminds me of Jabar Gaffney in the sense that he can align at various spots and he seems to adapt OK to it. Like Britt, I think he has a chance to make more of an impact this year, as having a full offseason in the system had him playing fast on Tuesday.
Matthews a wild card. Fifth-year veteran Jordan Matthews falls into the “wild card” category, somewhat similar to how I viewed Andrew Hawkins last offseason (before Hawkins retired) because he’s had solid production in the past but there’s an unknown as to how things might look in the Patriots’ system.
Mitchell’s health will dictate. Third-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell is a wild card for health reasons, after missing all of last season (knee). Considering he entered the NFL with questions about his knees as a 2016 fourth-round draft choice, he falls into the category of a player who could fall anywhere from front-line contributor to fighting to carve out a niche on the 53-man roster. He wasn’t at Tuesday’s OTA after having participated in parts of Monday’s session, but that could have been schedule-related more than anything.
The newcomer. Sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios, of the University of Miami, fits the profile of slot receiver/punt returner. I view his chances as 50-50 between the roster and practice squad, as there is obviously a long way to go. I watched him muff one punt on Tuesday, but to his credit, he stepped right back in and had a solid rep after that.
The long shots. Riley McCarron (slot, punt returner) and Cody Hollister (multiple receiver spots, gunner), both of whom spent last year on the team’s practice squad, round out the depth chart. While it might take an injury from a player ahead of them to open the door, whenever they are on the field, they fit right in. Hollister wasn’t present on Tuesday.
The captain. Special teams captain Matthew Slater, who warms up with the receivers, is also part of the group. He will be on the roster, but his impact at receiver will be limited.