Mosher: How will Josh Gordon fit in the New England Patriots offense?

September 18, 2018

In maybe the least surprising move ever, the New England Patriots, of all teams, have traded for talented-but-troubled receiver Josh Gordon. We all know Gordon’s well-documented off-the-field issues, but the question everyone wants to know is, how does he fit into the Patriots’ offense?

First and foremost, the Patriots have a history of making these type of moves. They love to take on players with perceived upside and see whether or not they can fit them into their system. Most of the time, these moves don’t work out. These moves usually happen in one of two ways. The Patriots like to gamble on veteran receivers to see if they can squeeze out one more solid season. Or they will gamble on former first-round picks who have fallen out of favor with their previous teams.

I can think of countless players who fit into one of these categories. Just look at their recent transactions over the past year, when the team has signed or traded for the following players:

· Phillip Dorsett

· Cordarrelle Patterson

· Corey Coleman

· Eric Decker

· Jordan Matthews

The Patriots constantly make aggressive moves via trade or free agency at the WR position. They are trying like crazy to strike lightning in a bottle at the position, in part because of their lack of success in drafting productive receivers. Over the past 19 drafts, the team has just two “hits” at the wide receiver position — Julian Edelman and Deion Branch. The other 13 receivers they have drafted combined for just over 5,000 receiving yards.

So back to the original question: Is Josh Gordon the next Randy Moss in New England? Or is he yet another talented receiver who will flame out rather quickly, like Chad Johnson?

Let’s first start with this. Predicting how Gordon fits into the locker room, with this coaching staff, etc. is anyone’s guess. I don’t even want to dare make a prediction about how any of the off-field-stuff will play out in New England. Instead, I want to focus on the fit and what Gordon can bring to the Patriots’ offense.

Unlike a Chad Johnson, Gordon isn’t known for his route-running. His success in Cleveland wasn’t the result of the chemistry he had with one quarterback like you often see in the NFL. Instead, Gordon’s game and success in his career have been because of one thing — his incredible athleticism. Though he looks like a tight end, Gordon’s speed and ability to win down the field and after the catch are what makes him a special talent.

Gordon may be able to fit into the Patriots’ offense quicker than most because of the type of routes and plays the Patriots’ offense lacks. Gordon’s strengths line up well with what New England needs on offense.

Gordon won’t be asked to be a traditional No.1 receiver. In fact, he won’t be the No.1 receiver really at all. When Julian Edelman returns from his suspension, you can expect that both he and Rob Gronkowski will continue to be the focal points of the offense. Gordon will be asked to complement them, rather than replace them.

But that doesn’t mean Gordon can’t have a monster impact right away. He should be able to help with their play-action game considerably. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots had the third-highest play-action rate during the 2017 season. However, despite the high play-action percentage and the greatest quarterback of all time, they averaged just 8.1 yards per play when play-action was used.

Part of the reason was they just didn’t have anyone that really scared defenses. Brandin Cooks was adequate in this area, and Phillip Dorsett can stretch the field at times, but they just didn’t have someone like Tyreek Hill or DeSean Jackson who could consistently capitalize on play-action. Now the Patriots have that type of weapon.

The play-action game, specifically in ‘12’ or ‘13’ personnel, is a staple of the Patriots’ offense. Now they finally have a weapon that can put defenses in a quandary when it comes to stopping their bigger personnel packages. Expect to see a lot of play-action throws, like this, down the field to Gordon in New England.

Gordon can run three routes really well — a slant, a post, and a go-route. Luckily for the Patriots, that’s all they need him for. They don’t need an outside receiver who knows all the option routes. Those plays and those routes are run by Edelman, Chris Hogan, and James White. Gordon is going to be asked to stretch the field, and that’s it. When Gordon is in that type of role, he is one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL.

I would imagine that Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars played a big part in the move to acquire Gordon. The Patriots likely took a look at the landscape of the conference and realized that with the emergence of Jacksonville, they needed to add another man-coverage beater to their offense.

New England knows they can carve up Pittsburgh’s zone defense, as they’ve been doing it for years. They don’t need Gordon to beat the Steelers — the other AFC team most likely to take down the Patriots in the playoffs.

But they did need a receiver who can win against man coverage. The type of defenses that have given New England problems in the past are the ones that can blanket their outside receivers in man coverage, which allows the opposition to dedicate more defenders to Gronkowski and/or the running backs.

In Jacksonville on Sunday, the Patriots had no one on the outside who made the Jaguars sweat. In turn, the Jags were able to throw a ton of defenders at Gronk, limiting him to just two catches for 15 yards. Once Gronkowski was taken out of the game, the Patriots didn’t have a counterpunch available.

Is Gordon the answer to that problem? Maybe. But at very least, it gives them another option. If the Patriots happen to meet the Jaguars in the playoffs, they now have another capable receiver to match up with Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.

In all likelihood, the move probably won’t pay off for the Patriots. These type of moves rarely do. But, there is a chance that this trade is just what the Patriots needed to unlock their offense. If Gordon can resemble a fraction of the player that we saw in 2013, the Patriots will have added a bona fide deep threat to the offense, which can help open up passes underneath to Gronkowski, Edelman and the cast of running backs.

And if the Patriots can get Gordon back to his 2013 form or better, perhaps they get something resembling the 2007 version of Moss. Whatever happens, it’s going to be fascinating to see how this all shakes out.

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