Phil Perry

How Hopkins would help Mac Jones follow successful Year 3 QB blueprint

DeAndre Hopkins would give Mac Jones the elite No. 1 receiver he has lacked through his first two NFL seasons.

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There are myriad reasons for the Patriots pursuing DeAndre Hopkins and pursuing him aggressively.

They have the money, as our pal Tom E. Curran pointed out. They need to do all they can to improve offensively since a top-notch defense isn't enough anymore, we found. Plus, the time is now to contend since they're four years removed from Tom Brady's departure.

Here's one more: The blueprint for a young quarterback to make the postseason is to surround him with weapons, and an argument could be made that the Patriots haven't done enough for Mac Jones there.

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Bill Belichick has NFL-caliber depth at receiver with DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton and JuJu Smith-Schuster. All can contribute to a functioning NFL offense. But none are so talented that they'd strike fear into the heart of an opposing defensive coordinator.

When you look at the other offensive skill positions in New England, the picture gets a little brighter for Jones. He has one of the best young running backs in football, Rhamondre Stevenson, who is a more-than-capable runner and receiver. Jones is also going to be using a lot of two-tight end sets with Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. Both should be above-average players at their positions.

Still, relative to the rest of the league, and relative to other young and inexpensive quarterbacks who've found success in the recent past, what the Patriots are bringing to the table from a skill-position standpoint is less than ideal. ESPN recently ranked them 26th in the league in that regard.

Consider the group surrounding Jones at the moment, without Hopkins. Now consider every Year 3 quarterback -- players on cheaper rookie contracts, remember -- to make the postseason in the last five years, listed below.

These are passers of varying skill sets, but just about all had one thing in common: Their teams surrounded them with quality weapons.

In 2018, third-year quarterback Jared Goff made the Super Bowl with Rams standouts Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley. Carson Wentz came back from injury that year and was back in the playoffs with Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz. Third-year quarterback Dak Prescott made the dance with Amari Cooper, Cole Beasley and Ezekiel Elliott as his top targets.

In 2019, Patrick Mahomes had Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to target en route to his first Super Bowl title with the Chiefs. In the same year, Deshaun Watson shared a Texans huddle with Hopkins and Will Fuller.

In 2020, a trio of first-round quarterbacks from the 2018 draft landed in the postseason. Josh Allen took off with Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley by his side in Buffalo. Baker Mayfield lost Odell Beckham after seven games but still had Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb to work with in Cleveland. Lamar Jackson's receiver group in Baltimore was underwhelming, led by Hollywood Brown, but he had one of the top security blankets in the league in tight end Mark Andrews.

In 2022, young quarterbacks in both conferences were buoyed by star-caliber talent. Joe Burrow had it made with Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins in Cincinnati. Tua Tagovailoa made magic with Hill and Jaylen Waddle in Miami. Justin Herbert was handed one of the NFL's top skill position groups in Los Angeles with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler. Jalen Hurts, meanwhile, got the Eagles to the Super Bowl with A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert.

By and large, the talent level the Patriots boast at the moment doesn't appear to approach those teams who were able to invest in high-caliber -- and oftentimes highly-paid -- pass-catchers while leaning on inexpensive quarterbacks.

If Belichick paid Hopkins to make Foxboro home, Jones would suddenly have a unit more befitting of the list above. That would mean a better shot at making the tournament, and a better shot of getting Robert Kraft closer to "Number 7."

The blueprint is out there. The talent is available. Now it's just a matter of getting Hopkins to sign on the dotted line.

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