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Patriots' Jakobi Meyers leaving undrafted label in the dust

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the life of him, Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy can't grasp why rookie Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers went undrafted. When reached for comment earlier this week, you could almost hear Nagy shaking his head.

"No, we've asked that internally a lot," he said. "Part of our process in getting better is to find out why the players we did invite (to the Senior Bowl) that didn't get drafted went undrafted. The feedback we've gotten from around the league was the 40 time. He ran in the 4.6 range (4.63 seconds, to be exact, at the NFL Scouting Combine). But when you study the player on tape, speed wasn't one of his overwhelming assets anyway. That really wasn't part of his game that would get you excited about him."

Meyers, a willowy 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who, just three summers ago, was competing for the starting quarterback job at North Carolina State (a competition won by Ryan Finley, now angling to back up Andy Dalton with the Bengals), has opened eyes at every turn in New England, be it in OTAs, at the start of training camp, in joint practices with both the Lions and Titans and, of course, in preseason games, where he leads the Patriots with 19 catches on 26 targets.

"He's done a great job, and he's taken advantage of his opportunities," said quarterback Tom Brady, himself working through his 20th NFL training camp. "I think that's really what we try to stress to anybody: The football doesn't care how old you are, whether you were drafted or not. The football doesn't care how much experience you have. It just knows, when I let that ball go, it's got to be in the hands of the guy who it's intended for. So, if that happens to be him, it's him. If it's Julian (Edelman), it's Julian. Whoever it is, it doesn't matter in football."

That's pretty heady stuff coming from a stickler like Brady, but it's further proof that Meyers has taken the right approach from Day 1, just like Brady did back in 2000 as a sixth-round pick. (You may have heard that story once or twice ...)

"I want to be great. I want to be in a position where they can depend on me, trust me on tough downs," Meyers said.

Of course, it's not all perfect. Meyers is a rookie, and that means he has a long way to go to see things the way Brady does. During Thursday night's preseason win over Carolina, he and Brady weren't on the same page several times, including on a skinny-post route that drew the quarterback's ire.

"I'm like, 'Man, I'm really getting yelled at by Tom Brady,' " Meyers said after the game.

But Meyers knows Brady wasn't yelling just to yell.

"Tom (has) played for a long time," he said. "When he wants to sit down and talk, you give him an open ear. He was basically telling me what I need to do, what I don't need to do, so just trying to listen to everything he's saying, good or bad, soak it up and try to get better."

The 22-year-old has been studying the team's voluminous playbook multiple times a day and has even gone to the lengths of making flash cards to aid in his learning and retention. Meyers made it clear way back in the spring, when we first met him, that his approach would be tireless.

"You've just got to earn everything. Everything is worked for, nothing is given. And then there's a lot of great guys out here, so if you don't catch up fast -- and I mean fast -- you will get left behind."

That could have happened to Meyers at N.C. State. He was converted to wide receiver just a week before his redshirt freshman season in 2016, and while he played in every game that year, he had a minimal impact. But he blossomed as a sophomore, reeling in 63 balls, then logged a 92-catch season as a junior. How did Meyers, whose perceived lack of athleticism was cited as a potential weakness in his NFL.com prospect profile, adjust to the position so well?

"He grew up playing quarterback. I think that's what makes him special," said his college offensive coordinator, George McDonald. "He understands spacing and where it is that the QB wants to throw the ball, so he always ran the route quarterback-friendly."

"If you didn't know that Jakobi hadn't played wideout before he got to N.C. State, you would have never guessed that," Nagy said. "One of the overwhelming positives was his football intelligence. That's one of the first things that hit you between the eyes, was how much savvy this kid has. This guy is wise beyond his years for a guy who's only played the position for a couple of years, just in terms of setting up routes, adjusting to coverages, knowing how to play with people around him and using his body. There were just so many things that were advanced for the receiver."

And what Meyers didn't already have in his bag, he's added by doing the smart thing.

"I just try to watch the guys who have done it," he said. "We got Jules (Julian Edelman, another converted quarterback), DT (Demaryius Thomas), a lot of great guys who have done it the right way for a long time, and all I have to do is watch them, and they'll show me the right way."

The receiver room in Foxborough, which already also included first-round pick N'Keal Harry, has gotten more crowded -- with Edelman coming off the non-football injury list, Thomas coming off the PUP list and Josh Gordon being conditionally reinstated -- but Meyers has given coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and his new teammates something to consider.

"He's made some really competitive catches," noted veteran safety Devin McCourty.

Added slot corner Jonathan Jones, "He finds ways to get open."

Leave it to Belichick, however, to remind us not to get too ahead of ourselves.

"He's got a long way to go in this league," the coach said. "I certainly wouldn't put him into the seasoned-veteran category. I mean, there's no rookie that would fall into that category. We'll see. We have a long way to go."

Follow Mike Giardi on Twitter @MikeGiardi.

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