FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The connection between New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers has heated up on the field the past two weeks, but it actually traces back further than that.
When Meyers was a student at Arabia Mountain (Georgia) High School, before he committed to NC State as a quarterback in 2015, he was part of an all-star team selected by Newton's charitable foundation.
"He's the person I've known longest this whole ordeal [with the Patriots]. I've known Jakobi when he was 16, 17 years old, both of us being from the greater Atlanta area," Newton said. "Jakobi is a person I took under my wing a long time ago. For it to happen the way it's happened, we're just getting started, I believe."
Meyers is coming off a 12-catch, 169-yard performance in Monday's win against the New York Jets, which lit up his cellphone like he's never seen before with family and friends offering congratulations -- something Meyers was smiling about a few days later.
The smile says it all: Jakobi Meyers reflects on what it was like checking his phone after his big Monday night performance, saying he's never experienced anything like that before. pic.twitter.com/4gvng3GiSg— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) November 11, 2020
If the Patriots are to pull off the upset against the visiting Baltimore Ravens on Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), they will once again need to tap the budding Newton-Meyers connection. Meyers' sudden rise after stepping in for injured Julian Edelman might have surprised others, and put him on the radar of fantasy owners looking for a statistical boost, but he is no longer operating under the radar of future opponents.
"He's obviously become a target, and you see how and why: He's rangy, he's got good hands, has catch radius, and can get open," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He seems to understand coverages and leverage really well, and seems to be tuned in to the offense and Cam. All of those things definitely make him a priority guy that we have to be very conscious of to cover."
Harbaugh's reference to Meyers being tuned in to Newton traces back to how the two first connected. Meyers, like many from his hometown of Lithonia, Georgia, and the surrounding area, looked up to Newton.
So when Newton's foundation selected Meyers to its all-star team, it provided Meyers a springboard to further his career.
"It was a chance for me to meet a lot of players from my area who were doing well in their communities and were good players and that went on to play in college, and a chance for me to meet a guy that we all looked up to at that age group," Meyers, 24, said. "We all kind of knew Cam's story and saw what he was doing on TV. That was a time that I'll probably never forget."
It's also a time Meyers played a different position. He was a quarterback in those days, and that's where he figured his career was headed at NC State.
But he converted to wide receiver in 2016 as a redshirt freshman and appeared in 31 games over three seasons, finishing with 168 receptions for 1,932 yards and nine touchdowns.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Meyers went undrafted, in part due to his lack of speed and rawness as a receiver, although former Patriots scout and current Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy has long been one of his biggest advocates. Nagy felt the Patriots got a steal by signing Meyers as an undrafted free agent, and recently called him arguably the best contested-catch receiver from the 2019 NFL draft.
For his part, Meyers said he's still learning the nuances of the receiver position, highlighting the value of experiencing different coverages and man techniques. His background as a quarterback is something Newton believes helps him.
"Playing the quarterback position makes you intellectually sound, cerebral by default because you know what the quarterback is looking for," Newton said. "He's such an easy target to throw to [because] he just finds a way to get open."
Meyers added that his background helps him "see plays big picture."
"I kind of understand what he's looking for, and if that doesn't work, what he's doing next. And I definitely still have that quarterback clock in my head, so if I feel like my route's taking too long, I know to get my eyes back to the quarterback because he might be in trouble," he said.
It was just a few weeks ago Meyers received a boost from Newton when no one was watching.
"I just remember him pretty much telling me that I was selling myself short, that I have potential, all I have to do is just live up to it and go out there and show coaches what I can do," Meyers said. "It was crazy because right after that, I got my opportunity, I actually played a couple plays and made a couple plays in the San Fran game, a couple plays here in the Bills game, and then I got the opportunity to play a major role in the last game.
"Like he was saying, just stop selling myself short, I could be beneficial to the team if I just go out there and put my best effort every day, show coaches that they can trust me to play, and I'm reliable. And it ended up leading to good things."