If you look at the New England Patriots' offense, you feel good about the running back situation. You feel good about the offensive line, obviously.
But you have to address the wide receiver position. That’s first and foremost.
They've gotten production from guys like Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers, and obviously Julian Edelman's injury hurt them. But you still don’t have a No. 1 wide receiver: a guy you can consistently count on to get open versus man-to-man to coverage.
I think that's a huge concern for this team moving forward. No matter who is playing quarterback, you need weapons around you to be successful.
Having an elite wide receiver changes the dynamics of how defenses can attack you. The NFL is a matchup league. So, if you feel confident that a guy can win 1-on-1 matchups on a consistent basis, especially with the way the Patriots can run the ball, teams can’t just play man-to-man defense and stack the box. Because when they stack the box against a dominant run game, what happens? You’re able to exploit that 1-on-1 matchup and make the successful plays that the Patriots are lacking right now.
If you have a No. 1 wide receiver who the defense is worried about, then they have to lighten the box, because they have to give help over the top with a safety. So, maybe you see more two-high-safety defenses and it lightens the box in the run game. It works hand-in-hand.
Quickness is a major asset in the Patriots offense. Comeback routes and in-cuts are important, so you need to be able to get in and out of your breaks. It’s not just height, size and speed. Those skills can definitely help your production, but it’s also the subtleties: the quickness, the general knowledge of the game, understanding where to get to in particular zones. That's what makes a wide receiver elite.
The elite receivers are smart football players. They know their opponent, they understand the strengths and weaknesses of who they’re going up against and can attack those weaknesses. They can use their hands in a particular way to get off a jam and have multiple different releases. So, you’re looking for a guy like that.
In the free agent market this year, you’ve got guys like Keenan Allen, who not only has the size but is also an incredible route runner. He understands defenses, understands zones and also has a great understanding for how to get open versus man coverage by setting a guy up and using his size.
He also has quickness coming in and out of breaks at the top of his route. There’s so many different types of wide receivers, but those receivers who can combine size with quickness are dynamic players. It’s hard for a defender to win those matchups because the receiver can not only out-compete you for jump balls because he can block you out with his body, but he also can beat you with quickness and come out of his breaks.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Keenan Allen and how he plays the game, his attention to detail and his consistency in his approach.
No 1 in sight
Where Jakobi Meyers' team-leading 616 receiving yards rank among NFL WRs
Having a No. 1 wide receiver helps you against the blitz as well. When defenses bring multiple blitzers, they often overload the zone. The Patriots take great pride in their protection schemes, so if you can pick up that zone blitz, then they have fewer defenders in the back end to attack your guys. And if one guy wins his matchup and breaks a tackle, then that’s when you get yards after the catch and big plays.
That's where Wes Welker made his living. He was a security blanket. I always knew that if defenses were going to pressure us, I had the ability to get to a seven-man protection and know that he would win his matchup so quickly that I could still get the ball out on time.
When you have a certain talent level on offense, defenses have to pick their poison. They might try to pressure you, but if they bring that pressure and you beat it, they’re not going to go back to that. It changes their dynamics. They go, “Well, s---. We may have to play more zone." And then you can dial up your zone-beaters.
It's just a fun way to operate, because you dictate to the defense what they have to do. And if you have a talented offensive coordinator like Josh McDaniels who can diagram plays to create mismatches, then you can set the tone, because the defense is wondering how it will match up to deal with an elite wide receiver.