In the lead-up to New England Patriots training camp, with the first public practice scheduled for July 26, it is timely to review each position on the roster with our annual “roster locks” series. After highlighting the running backs on Tuesday, let's move on to the wide receivers:
Long shot: Cody Hollister
Explaining the locks: Edelman and Hogan were easy choices based on their experience in the system and production, as was Patterson because the Patriots project him as their top kickoff returner (and gunner covering punts) after acquiring him in an offseason trade from Oakland. How much Patterson ultimately contributes on offense will be one of many storylines at this position in training camp, which is arguably the team's most intriguing because of the myriad possibilities. Some might view Matthews as an aggressive choice as a lock, but the projection is that the Patriots will ultimately come to value his versatility, smarts and cheap contract, which is why he lands in that category. Furthermore, I don't think it's a stretch to say Edelman's four-game suspension to open the season further increases Matthews' chances of sticking around.
Roster management: The Patriots project to keep five receivers on the initial 53-man roster (special-teams captain Matthew Slater would be a sixth), and kicking-game considerations will play a major factor with the final spots, specifically with returners. Patterson has the inside track to handle kickoffs, which could be a major part of the game with the NFL's significant rules changes in 2018, while McCarron (spent 2017 on the practice squad) and Berrios (2018 sixth-round pick) are pure slot receivers with punt-return experience vying for that job. Mitchell's status comes down to his health after he missed all of the 2017 season (knee) and then most of this year's spring practices; can he string days together and reach a point where the coaches can rely on him being on the field? Britt has arguably the most impressive all-around physical traits of any Patriots receiver and could make a major impact as more of a pure "X" receiver if he develops a rapport with Tom Brady, which ultimately will be the key to him sticking around. Dorsett's smarts and versatility helped him hang in last season in a challenging spot after joining the team in early September via trade, but after having his roster bonus reduced this year, that is an indication he isn't a roster lock at this time. Hollister spent last season on the practice squad and was an excellent special-teams player at Arkansas, so he shouldn't be overlooked despite facing longer odds to stick around.
Stat of note: Patterson has averaged 30.2 yards per kickoff return in his career, with five touchdowns. The 30.2 average ranks only behind Gale Sayers (30.6) in NFL history.
One thing to watch for in camp: Who stays late for extra work with Brady? That is often a good indicator of the pass-catchers who have made an initial impression on Brady, as they work to make up some lost time from having not spent all of the spring together in voluntary workouts. Last year, after one practice, Brady stayed late with Brandin Cooks as they worked on the finer points of the deep passing game.
Fantasy impact: Edelman would have been an obvious solid choice based on his past production with Brady, as the chemistry between them would have made him a safe bet to produce 90 to 100 receptions. But the four-game suspension to open the season affects his value, although one thing fantasy owners can reliably bank on: It shouldn't take him long to regain his standing as Brady's go-to target upon his return, as the two have spent a lot of time working together this offseason. Outside of Edelman, I don't see a receiver worthy of a major fantasy investment.