Phil Perry

How Pop Douglas has developed into a record-setting receiver for Pats

The shifty rookie slot man is taking cues from Patriots legends before him.

NBC Universal, Inc.

FOXBORO -- The news was still relatively fresh to DeMario Douglas. He'd just been informed he surpassed Deion Branch's mark for catches by a rookie under Bill Belichick, and he couldn't help himself from smiling.

"I passed Deion? That's crazy," he said. "That's a blessing. That's crazy."

Douglas' season has been crazy productive relative to the expectations that would have been reasonably set out for him as a sixth-round pick out of Liberty. No one on the Patriots has seen more targets this year (68), despite Douglas missing three games due to concussions. No one has more receiving yards (517). And his catches total (44) is lagging behind only running back Ezekiel Elliott (45). 

At 1.97 yards per route run, Douglas ranks 28th among qualifying NFL receivers, checking in just behind Rams go-to guy Cooper Kupp (1.98) and just ahead of Vegas star wideout Davante Adams (1.94).

But for Douglas to be mentioned in the same breath as Branch -- who had 43 catches for 489 yards back in 2002, when Douglas was just a 1-year-old -- meant the world. He's been shown tape of the oh-so-shifty Branch since arriving in Foxboro back in the spring, and when he teamed up with former Louisville star Malik Cunningham, he heard even more about the Super Bowl MVP.

Branch is the director of player development and alumni relations at his alma mater Louisville, and he served as interim head coach for the Cardinals in their Fenway Bowl appearance last year.

🔊 Patriots Talk: A deep dive on Bill Belichick’s case to remain with the Patriots | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"I've watched his film, how he was separating," Douglas said. "How he was getting open, how he did stuff in his routes to get open. I felt like that's helped me, too. Watching his film, watching Troy Brown's film, I added a little old school to my game just seeing how they became successful."

Douglas ran a devastating return route in the third quarter of his team's win over Denver on Christmas Eve -- slanting inside before pivoting outside and hauling to the sideline -- that created yards of separation and led to a 13-yard pickup. 

"I'd say in practice, I've been doing that," Douglas said of his hesitation release. "I've been working on stuff in practice. Game time is when you gotta do what works. But in practice I do little stuff. I might get clamped. But that's what practice is for. I know I can do something to beat it. But if I work on some new stuff that I can add to my inventory, it'd be great." 

Douglas said he likes to try to add a little "spice" to his releases and the tops of his routes based off what he's seen from Branch, Brown and others. It's one of the many things he's learned from studying those who came before him.

"If I read the coverage," Douglas explained, "how am I running my route? If I have an out route to the corner and he's just sitting straight Cover 2, I got an out route, I would break it down and not go all the way out. And how they add swagger to their routes, to their juke routes and stuff like that. That's what I was mostly looking at, [Branch's] juke routes. Go balls, you can add a little spice to a go ball, not just run. Stuff like that.

"I can do a one-two or a speed release. Speed release would be a regular release on a go ball. But a one-two, right-left, left-right and then at the top of the route, with my head fake one way and come out the opposite way? That's helped a lot, for sure."

Douglas idolized Allen Iverson and Chris Paul as a guard at Mandarin High in Jacksonville. But it's the names he's associated with on the football field now that matter most to him.

"Troy will put up clips of the return," Douglas said, "and it would be [Branch], Troy, Wes Welker, (Julian) Edelman. It's crazy. All the legends before me."

Does he feel like he's next in that long line of great Patriots slots?

"I do feel like I'm next in line, but I don't feel like I'm there yet," he said. "I got a lot to work on, for sure... I still feel like I haven't did anything. I still haven't scored. I honestly feel like I still haven't did anything. I still have a lot to improve. Still got a lot to do for sure."

Contact Us