Exploring hot topics around the New England Patriots in mailbag form:
Hi Mike. Was re-reading your WR piece from last week. If Decker fits in well and develops a chemistry with TB plus taking into account his time with McDaniels in DEN, is he a threat to Dorsett (even though he's not the speedy deep threat PD is)?— Brian Goodwin (@brian22goodwin) August 7, 2018
Brian, I don't view the arrival of Eric Decker (signed on Aug. 3) as having a direct trickle-down effect on Phillip Dorsett's chances of sticking. I think Dorsett is safe for the opening of the season, especially given Julian Edelman's four-game suspension. But I do think the position is not particularly strong and any chances of upgrading via trade should be considered. As of now, my breakdown on the top of the receiver depth chart to open the year would look like this:
And from there, my view of the top questions still to be answered this preseason are: Does Kenny Britt's return from a hamstring injury go smoothly, as he seemed to be practicing well in the spring, and earn him a spot in that top group? Do punt returners/slot options Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios make a charge for a spot along with Devin Lucien?
There's obviously always a chance of adding another receiver via trade or waivers, and the chance of a surprise, but the importance of having pass-catchers who have spent time with Tom Brady in training camp makes me feel more confident in locking in the aforementioned players.
I feel like Hollister has shown some flashes. Would they be confident rolling with him as a primary backup if they could get something for Allen or Tye?— Jason Gallagher (@Soxfan893) August 7, 2018
Jacob Hollister, who enters his second year with the Patriots after making the club in 2017 as an undrafted free agent, is in line for a larger role than he had in 2017 when he played 87 total offensive snaps. But in this scenario, my belief is that the Patriots wouldn't view him as a direct replacement for someone like Dwayne Allen because they have much different playing styles. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Hollister runs well, catches the ball in traffic, and is more of a "move" tight end. While he is competitive as a blocker at the end of the line of scrimmage, the Patriots wouldn't be fully maximizing his skill set by relying on him in that role. Meanwhile, the 6-3, 265-pound Allen is one of the NFL's better blocking tight ends who isn't going to be as big of a factor as a pass-catcher.
So the way I look at the team's tight end group is that you have Rob Gronkowski and then a 2A/2B situation with Hollister/Allen depending on how offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wants to attack the defense.
Taking this one step further, the first thing you want to look for in a two-TE set is how the defense decides to match it personnel-wise. With a Gronkowski/Hollister combination, there is a greater chance of seeing a sub defense because of the threat in the passing game. With a Gronkowski/Allen combination, there might be a greater chance to see a base defense, which could be a more favorable matchup depending on the week.
As for Will Tye (6-2, 260 pounds), he falls into more of the Hollister category in terms of playing style, but I view him as having longer odds to make the roster. Meanwhile, rookie Ryan Izzo, the seventh-round pick from Florida State, had a solid debut on Thursday and could make a charge to stick around.
In the end, I view the most likely scenario for the Patriots as one in which they keep Gronkowski, Hollister and Allen, which has potential to be one of the NFL's best top-to-bottom tight end depth charts.
@MikeReiss what's the story with Jason McCourty? Seems non existent in camp. He was ranked higher than Gilmore and Butler in some publications last year for a crap Browns team.— 🇺🇸❌ Nopepr11 ❌🇺🇸 (@NoPepr11) August 7, 2018
Jason McCourty has been running with the second unit, playing mostly opposite undrafted JC Jackson, who has been one of the under-the-radar players emerging with a solid chance to make the roster. I would put McCourty on the roster bubble, as I view the cornerback locks as Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and second-round pick Duke Dawson. What is working against McCourty, assuming everyone is healthy, is that the No. 4-5-6 cornerback spots (depending on how many stick) are often determined with special-teams contributions in mind and he has a limited role in the kicking game. Jackson, for example, has been working as a gunner covering punts. Other players like Jonathan Jones (top coverage player with high-end speed) and Cyrus Jones (potential returner) also have some level of value in that area. When I watch McCourty, I believe he can still play and help this team (or another team). He's also a top locker room presence. So he has a lot of things going for him, but as for his place on the 2018 Patriots, I believe it is going to be tied to how some of the other pieces around him come together.