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Q&A with Pats Pulpit: What impact can Austin Carr make with the New England Patriots?

The Big Ten’s leading receiver will be fighting for a spot on the defending champions’ roster.

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Eric J. Adler, New England Patriots

It’s now been over a week since former Northwestern receiver Austin Carr signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent. The deal makes perfect sense for both sides, as the Patriots have had plenty of success in the past utilizing receivers who flew under the radar on draft day.

Since then, many New England sports outlets have noted their excitement with the Carr acquisition, calling him the most intriguing UDFA in the Patriots class, a player that could fit right into the Patriot’s offense and even the “heir apparent to Julian Edelman”.

Before the draft, Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit was the first to predict — way back in March after Northwestern’s pro day — that Carr could be the next great slot receiver for the Patriots and has since labeled Carr as his pick for the Patriots’ “preseason star that everyone hopes makes the roster.”

So in order to get a better understanding of where Carr stands with the Patriots, we asked Hill to give us a breakdown of New England’s receiving corps and discuss Carr’s short term outlook and where he could fit in with the team down the road.

The Patriots made headlines earlier this offseason when they traded for Brandin Cooks to bolster their receiving corps. As of now, who do you see as the projected starters and who else do you expect to contribute next season?

The Patriots are likely to rotate Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks with Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. Both Edelman and Hogan were 80% snap players in 2016 and it would make sense for Cooks to see a similar amount of time on the field, with Mitchell possibly substituting in the red zone due to his run blocking ability. Danny Amendola is another option in the slot, but I feel like he'll be a "break glass if emergency" type of player where he stays on the bench unless there's an injury.

What past history does New England have with UDFA’s working their way onto the active roster?

The Patriots always add an undrafted free agent or two every season. In 2016, undrafted players like CB Jonathan Jones, DT Woodrow Hamilton, and RB D.J. Foster all made the roster at various points during the season. In 2015, it was SS Brandon King, LB Kevin Snyder, and WR Chris Harper. In 2014, it was some fella named Malcolm Butler. If there is talent in the undrafted free agent that signs with the Patriots, they will make the roster in some capacity.

Danny Amendola (31 years old) and Julian Edelman (30) are both veteran slot receivers who will be unrestricted free agents next season. Do you think it’s possible Carr could be the younger (and less expensive) slot replacement for these two in the future?

While both Edelman and Amendola are locks to make the team in 2017, everyone expects Amendola to depart after this upcoming season. The Patriots would love to keep Edelman around, but they want to see if he can remain healthy for the second-straight season. Carr is an excellent option to be the replacement for Amendola and could be that guy if he sticks around — likely on the practice squad — until 2018.

Based on what you’ve seen from Carr, how can you see him fitting into New England’s passing attack? Is there a specific Patriots receiver (current or past) that he resembles most?

Carr is a bigger slot receiver type that the Patriots have never really had before; players like Troy Brown, Wes Welker, Edelman, and Amendola are all shorter players. It's worth noting that the Patriots were intentionally scouting taller slot receivers this draft season, so they have a role in mind. It just might be a new role that we haven't seen before. I think it could be something similar to Jordan Matthews in Philadelphia or Marques Colston in New Orleans.

The Patriots (or possibly just Tom Brady) have become known for taking underrated/underappreciated receivers and turning them into contributors. What is it about Brady and the Patriots' offense that allows these receivers to excel?

The Patriots find receivers with quickness, even if they lack other physical attributes. So the reason these players are "underrated" is not that they can't play, but that they don't fit into the narrative of what a prototypical top receiver looks like. This makes the atypical player undervalued and the Patriots love to capitalize on that value by constructing a role for these players in the offense. As for the offensive success, the Patriots benefit from great play calling from Josh McDaniels and great delivery by Brady where the offense will quickly create an opening for a receiver; it's up to the receiver to get immediate separation, catch the ball, and fall forward. These players don't need long speed to hit a home run (Cooks is a new type of player in the offense) because the Patriots are content to lead 10+ play drives.

I know it’s early, but what would be your prediction as of now on Carr’s chances of making the Patriots’ active roster come the start of the season?

It’s definitely early, but I would say that Carr has the third-best chance of the undrafted players to make the roster, behind TE Jacob Hollister and LB Harvey Langi. Carr needs to prove that he's too valuable of a player to try and stash on the practice squad and that the Patriots will need to retain him on the active roster–even as a red shirt season–just like they did with D.J. Foster in 2016.