FOXBOROUGH — Jakobi Meyers ran down the sideline, fading towards the end zone as Jarrett Stidham heaved the ball deep. Keion Crossen was in tight coverage and Patrick Chung was closing in to help as the three closed in on the descending pass.
At the last moment, Meyers leapt up between the two defenders and softly tipped it in the air. The two defenders turned and watched helplessly as the ball gracefully dropped into Meyers’ hands, and they could only shake their heads as Meyers stepped into the end zone untouched while the crowd roared in approval.
The catch, arguably the most impressive of any player at training camp so far, was a resounding statement from a player who has emerged as the fastest riser of the preseason. Meyers, an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina State, has separated himself from the pack and now stands as a strong contender to make the 53-man roster.
And he cemented his rising status Thursday night when he caught six passes and scored a pair of touchdowns in the Patriots’ 31-3 victory over Detroit.
If he does make the team, it would extend the New England Patriots’ streak of having at least one undrafted rookie make the team to 16 consecutive years.
Meyers, who stands at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, came into camp battling for the fifth receiver spot along other unproven players like Braxton Berrios, Gunner Olszewski and Ryan Davis. Since camp opened, Meyers has seen his role increase substantially, and over the past week he has consistently taken first team reps with Tom Brady as an outside receiver.
Just as notably, Meyers took part in a side session with Brady on Wednesday, and on Thursday he was occasionally matched up against All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, suggesting a certain level of trust in the young receiver.
Meyers has consistently been a reliable producer dating back to his days at NC State. After transitioning from quarterback to receiver as a freshman, Meyers made 168 catches for 1,932 yards and nine touchdowns in three seasons for the Wolfpack, including 92 catches for 1,047 yards as a senior. According to Pro Football Focus, he also ranked third among all college receivers with a 91.4 drop grade.
His NFL Scouting Combine performance wasn’t anything special — he only ran a 4.63 40-yard dash — but his ability to make contested catches has always been his biggest strength, and that was on display Thursday.
Beyond just the highlight reel catch, Meyers hauled in all four balls thrown his way during the 11 on 11 drills. That included a contested grab in the end zone over Crossen that may have been just out of bounds, along with an impressive leaping catch from Brady over Jason McCourty on the first play of competitive 11 on 11s.
His contributions haven’t gone unnoticed among the veterans.
“He’s made some really competitive catches,” said safety Devin McCourty. “I think that’s a good thing to see about all these young guys, their ability and ‘want to’ to come out here and try to outwork everyone, that’s what it takes when you’re a rookie. You’re not going to get everything right, you’re not even going to get most things right, you just have to come out here and play hard and try to work out everybody.”
With nearly a month to go before the start of the season, Meyers still has a long way to go before he earns a spot on the team. But at this stage in camp, and based on his play Thursday night, Meyers has taken advantage of every opportunity given.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.