Best, worst and most likely scenarios for Patriots WRs in 2024


Best, worst and most likely scenarios for Patriots WRs in 2024 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

It’s time for more spitballin’!!!

We started our Best Case/Worst Case/Most Likely Case series last week with a projection of what might be in store for Drake Maye.

We are back at it again today with a look at the wide receivers, an oft-lamented crew that has some guys who are tailor-made for either the Larry David or Alonzo Mourning face GIFs.

Here’s your wideout room: Kendrick Bourne, JuJu Smith-Schuster, K.J. Osborn, DeMario Douglas, Ja’Lynn Polk, Javon Baker, Kayshon Boutte, Tyquan Thornton, Jalen Reagor, Kawaan Baker, David Wallis.

Away we go …

Best-case scenario

Want a silver lining to the Patriots demolishing their last quarterback and striking out so often at wide receiver the past few years? The new guys at QB and WR – Drake Maye, Ja’Lynn Polk and Javon Baker – get to lock arms and march into the desert together beginning as rookies.

So best case at wideout is Polk being the underrated gem so many believe him to beTough as hell, smart as a whip, a technician and a guy who can play beyond his age of 22 in terms of maturity and dependability. He’s a Day 1 starter for Jacoby Brissett but the Maye-Polk combo showed up time and again in camp and preseason.

Before we get to the other rookie, Baker, let’s veer to second-year wideout DeMario Douglas. Because he showed last year on an awful offense that he can be the nightmare matchup the Patriots haven’t had since 2018 Julian Edelman was still spry.

Overlooked in the misery was that Douglas averaged 6.9 yards after catch per reception (YAC), which was third in the NFL among wideouts with more than 40 catches. He trailed only Deebo Samuel (8.8) and Rashee Rice (8.3). He was the most productive wideout once emerging from mothballs after a Week 2 fumble. Maybe he’s not Tyreek Hill, but he becomes the hub of the passing offense and gets about 120 targets and goes over 1,000 yards.

His presence inside and underneath enables Baker to grow into his role as the outside, contested catch, YPC beast he was at Central Florida last year and – with Maye having the ability to play off-script and buy time, Baker becomes a big-play threat.

Meanwhile, the oft-overlooked free agency addition K.J. Osborn ideally will become the veteran presence in the group even though it’s just his fourth season. As the third-fiddle in the Vikings offense, he put up numbers the past three seasons and his former quarterback Kirk Cousins offered in the offseason that a bigger role would suit Osborn perfectly.

Ideally, those are the main four because they can all grow along with Maye and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt over a period of time.

Where’s that leave Kendrick Bourne and JuJu Smith-Schuster? Bourne – who was having a really good 2023 before his season-ending injury in Week 8 – said earlier this season he hopes to be full-go by training camp and ready for Week 1. If he is, perfect. He’s a great energy player and is versatile as hell. That means Baker can apprentice a bit as he grows into what his role will be.

This being “best case,” Smith-Schuster’s minicamp proclamation that he’s in amazing shape and ready to erase last year’s 11-game, 29-catch season with a highly productive 2024 comes together.

The pecking order comes clear – Douglas, Polk, Osborn, Bourne – but when the ball comes to JuJu on third down or in the red zone he’s similar to the 2020 model: Surehanded. Dependable. Solid blocker. Good leader.

As for the other three guys – Tyquan Thornton, Jalen Reagor and Kayshon Boutte? I’ve seen with my very own eyes each one make plays. Boutte had a very good camp in 2023. Best case, one of them emerges as the kickoff return specialist. But there’s only so much room in the room.

Worst-case scenario

Wideout is one of the most reliant positions in the game. In order to produce, the line has to hold up and the quarterback has to be competent and accurate before the wideout can even begin to show his relevance. Never mind the run game, offensive coordinator and other pass-catchers doing their thing. Worst case then is that Jacoby Brissett doesn’t have time to process a thing. Like Mac Jones early last year — under constant siege.

The team, believing Smith-Schuster and Bourne’s experience trumps development in the early part of the year, becomes overly reliant on those two and Osborn. And Douglas – as I said, the one truly unique asset they have – gets marginalized by a meat-and-potatoes offense that doesn’t show any ingenuity in unlocking him.

The lack of reps and modest production gets the kids riled up. Baker, who pre-sold himself as a major attraction for fans, can’t stop asking, “Where’s mine?!?!?!” Polk is in and out. But the offense is so stagnant and unable to move the ball (think, “1, 2, 3, PUNT!) there are literally not enough plays in the game for anyone to get enough work.

In short, it looks way too much like the offense of last year when the top two wideouts (Douglas and Bourne) combined for 86-967-4, which is what the Raiders basically got from one Jakobi Meyers (71-807-8).

Most likely

JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kendrick Bourne

It’s going to be a whole lot closer to best-case than worst-case. Being bad is one thing. Being bad and boring? Worst-case scenario. And that, aside from the melodrama of the past two years, is what the team’s been.

With a directive from the very top to please make the offense worth watching, GM Eliot Wolf is true to his word when he said “I think there’s going to be more reliance on playing young players.”

Polk and Douglas are given every single chance to prove they can be a duo that can produce, produce, produce for years. Even if they don’t, relentless optimism about their approach, diligence and potential rules the early part of the season.

Bourne is still easing back early in the year but Smith-Schuster is as good as his word and is much more dependable. The team also manages his reps and work and he has a solid 40-plus catch season.

Osborn is the surprise. He has almost instant chemistry with Brissett and shows great third-down dependability.

The Patriots move on from Tyquan to open the door for Baker. He doesn’t do much early but comes on after Halloween and has 26 catches for 442 yards (17 YPC) and five touchdowns.

Is anyone scared of the Patriots offense? Not exactly. But they do take note of what it might look like if the arc of improvement holds.



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