Long Shots: Riley McCarron staring at opportunity with Patriots' wideouts hurting


FOXBORO -- Last summer it was hard to miss the kid bouncing around the practice fields at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, even though he measured in at 5-foot-9. He played receiver for the Texans when the Patriots visited for joint practices. He returned punts. He got coaching from Texans assistant Wes Welker. He wore No. 83. The comparisons were easy. 

“He’s a good kid and he works hard,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said last year of receiver Riley McCarron. 

“He’s the spitting image of Welker, wearing No. 83 and all. He’s smart and tough. He’s played through injury already with a sore thumb and still played through it. He just needs to continue to get better.”

The Texans eventually released McCarron, and he was scooped up by the team that turned Welker into one of the game's most productive receivers. McCarron spent last season on the Patriots practice squad, but he is now in his second year as a pro and could be staring at an opportunity to break through on New England's active roster come September.

The Patriots are hurting at receiver at the moment. They recently placed Jordan Matthews on injured reserve. Malcolm Mitchell hasn't practiced. Kenny Britt and Matthew Slater are on the physically unable to perform list. 


Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett are available, as is Julian Edelman. But Edelman is scheduled to miss the first four games of the season due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension. The bottom of the depth chart at the position includes Devin Lucien, Braxton Berrios and Paul Turner (who was in focus as a "long shot" in this space recently).

Of that under-the-radar group, of which McCarron can be considered a part, there may be room for one on the 53-man roster. Helping the Iowa product is that he's spent time in the system in 2017, he has the ability to return punts (which the Patriots could use with Edelman out), and he had plenty of experience working out of the slot in college. With Edelman gone for the season's first month, an inside presence may be what the team is looking for. 

"I don't really spend too much time on that," McCarron said. "That's out of my control. I'm just trying to come out here and compete every day . . . and trying to be a guy that my teammates and everybody can count on to get the job done."

McCarron has taken some first-team reps with Tom Brady early in camp as the Patriots try to manage their numbers at the receiver position. If he can show an ability to separate on short-to-intermediate routes, and if he can establish any kind of rapport with Brady, McCarron could have a shot.

He doesn't have to Welker. But he does have to be consistent, and he has to be reliable. Right now he has the opportunity to show that he's both. 


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