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The wide receiver position is a key focal point in the upcoming season for the New England Patriots. Wes Welker, who was Tom Brady’s favorite target the past six seasons, is now catching passes from Peyton Manning out in Denver. It will be a new cast for Brady this season which could pose a significant challenge. However, he is still the same quarterback that has made a career out of throwing to lesser known targets.
With the exception of the Randy Moss/Wes Welker era, Brady spent most of his career throwing to the likes of Troy Brown, David Patten, David Givens and Deion Branch. Let’s not forget the year where his top two targets were Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell. That season they missed going to the Super Bowl when the defense blew an 18-point halftime lead. Of course for all the unknowns who thrived with Brady and the Patriots’ offense, there have been plenty who could never figure it out despite having talent. Everyone remembers the likes of Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson, Bethel Johnson, Joey Galloway, and the more recent Chad
The point to pay attention to the past mentions is that the wide receiver position has been a revolving door of sorts, but the one constant (minus 2008) has been Tom Brady. As long as the receivers do their part to understand the offense and know where Brady expects them to be, there’s no reason why this group of receivers can’t find success with Brady and the offense.
The Patriots took no time in replacing Wes Welker as they signed Danny Amendola to a 5-year deal that could be worth up to $31 million. Needless to say, he does have some big shoes to fill. He comes to the Patriots from the Rams, where he played in current offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ offense. The plus is he is familiar with the offensive style, but he’ll need to translate that understanding into consistent play on the field. There is a question mark in terms of his durability, which is going to be the hardest thing to replace about Welker. Even when Welker tore his ACL in week 17 of the 2009 season, he didn’t miss a game of the 2010 season. Amendola has played 5 seasons, only one of which he played all 16 games. Last season he missed five games but still managed reasonable numbers in a less than impressive offense. Amendola is a little more dynamic than Welker in the sense that he can stretch the field better. While Wes was more of a middle of the field receiver, Amendola has shown the ability to use the sidelines to his advantage. Health is the main concern with Danny, but if he can stay on the field, he and Brady could be a dangerous tandem.
There are three rookies on this team that have been making noise in camp and are all interesting stories to keep track of throughout the season. The three names to watch out for are 2nd round pick out of Marshall Aaron Dobson, 4th round pick out of TCU Josh Boyce, and undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins out of Cincinnati. All three have been getting good reps in training camp and Dobson and Thompkins found themselves running with the first team offense in the first preseason game against the Eagles. Dobson had 2 catches for 35 yards, but was targeted 8 times. Thompkins caught 4 for 23 yards on 5 attempts. These weren’t amazing numbers by any means, but they are trying to get these two involved. Boyce didn’t have any impact at all in the game, but he has appeared to be a little more of a work in progress throughout camp.
Dobson and Thompkins have the ability to make an immediate impact in this offense. They both have good size, standing at 6’3″ and 6’1″ respectively, and Dobson, especially in that early glimpse of him, has shown his ability to stretch the field. Development is obviously the key to both of these rookies. The raw talent appears to be there, and as long as they can develop a firm grasp on the playbook the passing game could be just as dangerous as ever.
The last new face to take a look at is veteran Michael Jenkins. He didn’t play in the first preseason game due to a leg injury, and his situation is something to keep an eye on throughout preseason. If the play of the rookies continues to impress and Jenkins can’t shake the injury he may find himself without a spot on the roster. However, if he sticks with the team he has the ability to be a viable possession style receiver for Brady. He doesn’t have good speed, but he is a large target at 6’4” and has good hands, making for an interesting option on third downs.
Julian Edelman is the only receiver who saw significant time last season returning to the offense (Matthew Slater is also back but he is more of an emergency option and spends his time on special teams). He was looking like he was finally about to break out last season until a foot injury ended his year. He finished with 21 catches for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns in only 9 games. Edelman has been known for his middle of the field routes but last season he showed the ability to go down the field. With those dynamic abilities, Edelman can be a great weapon for Brady.
This brings us to the main point for the receivers this year. It can definitely be said for every position but this year in particular the health of these receivers will be key. In order to maintain consistency and staying on the same page everyone will need to be out there getting reps. With an offense full of new faces there isn’t going to be a lot of depth. Guys like Edelman and Amendola are now going to be looked at as go-to guys and if they’re on the sidelines they’re of no use. While the rookies need to be on the field to be constantly strengthening their relationship with Brady. Here’s hoping this group can stay healthy because if the early indications mean anything they could be a fun group to watch.
Tags: 2013 Patriots Preview, Aaron Dobson, Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Chad Johnson, Danny Amendola, David Givens, David Patten, Deion Branch, Doug Gabriel, Jabar Gaffney, Joey Galloway, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Michael Jenkins, Patriots, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Reche Caldwell, Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Wes Welker