Chris Hogan exploded onto the scene Sunday night during the AFC Championship Game, setting career-highs in catches (nine), yards (180) and touchdowns (two) as his New England Patriots clinched a berth in Super Bowl LI. Hogan’s path to stardom has been unorthodox to say the least, but he’s yet another guy the Patriots have found and converted into a key piece of their puzzle.
Hogan played lacrosse in college at Penn State, opting to forgo offers to play football. After graduating, he still had one year of eligibility left and opted to give football a shot at Monmouth. He had just 12 receptions for 147 yards and three touchdowns in one collegiate football season.
Despite almost no college track record, the San Francisco 49ers signed Hogan as an undrafted free agent in July of 2011. He was promptly released on September 3 of that year before the New York Giants picked him up and added him to their practice squad on September 12. The Giants then cut him on September 23. The Miami Dolphins signed him to their practice squad on December 27, before inking him to a reserve/future contract on January 3, 2012. Clearly the kid had something going for him or he wouldn’t have been picked up so many times.
The Dolphins released Hogan on September 11, 2012 and the Buffalo Bills added him to their practice squad on November 6. He played in all 16 games during the 2013 season, catching 10 passes for 83 yards. He finally broke out in 2014, with 41 receptions for 426 yards and four touchdowns. Hogan had another solid year in 2015, as he hauled in 36 passes for 450 yards and two scores. He was a restricted free agent last offseason and Bill Belichick raised eyebrows by signing him to a three-year, $12 million deal that the Bills didn’t match. The move has been worth it.
This season Hogan played in 15 games and caught 38 passes for 680 yards and four scores. So far in the postseason he has added 13 receptions for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He’s not big or flashy, but the 28-year-old fits the mold of guys the Patriots have discovered with regularity under Belichick: He’s fundamentally sound, quick and has very good hands.
In the past, the Patriots have used guys like Wes Welker, Troy Brown, Deion Branch, David Patten, David Givens, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman the same way. All of those guys ran solid routes, were quick off the line and out of breaks and — most importantly — caught the ball when Tom Brady delivered it. Hogan is just the latest in that long line.
What Brady and Belichick have done with New England’s offense this year is remarkable. Guys like Hogan, Edelman and Martellus Bennett have all picked up the slack with Rob Gronkowski out for the season. And players other teams let walk in the past like LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and Amendola have added valuable contributions. Other than Gronkowski and Brady the Patriots have no real stars at the skill positions, yet they’re headed to the Super Bowl. That is remarkable.
Hogan’s story seems all too familiar when thinking about the Patriots’ 15-year run at the top of the NFL. He’s yet another guy the Pats targeted who very few saw any promise in. Don’t ever doubt Bill Belichick’s ability to identify talent.
Now a kid who played lacrosse in college and was cut by three teams in one year will enter Super Bowl LI as one of Tom Brady’s top targets. That’s truly an incredible story.