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This isn’t the 2007 Patriots’ offense, as much as we hope it can play like it. But since that record-breaking season, the wide receivers in New England have come and gone, grown old and grown up. The Pats’ offense has seen some major development in the past three years: Randy Moss is approaching the end of his career, Wes Welker has recently begun taking up some of the spotlight, Ben Watson and Lawrence Maroney have proven they are not worth any of their previous hype, Joey Galloway wasted our time, Donte Stallworth went to jail, and Chad Jackson has proven that he can be nothing more than just Chad Jackson.
With a 2010 draft that was highlighted by two big-name college tight-ends (Ron Gronkowski and Bristol, CT’s own Aaron Hernandez), it seems Belichick may be taking advantage of the Patriots’ best resources on offense, and could be moving away from the spread offense. He has been stocking up on old-timers in the backfield, as well as re-vamping the tight-end corps to provide a steady balance of blocking and play-making ability. The Patriots’ offense should look a little different as a whole this year.
So, how will the Patriots’ wide receivers look at the beginning of the season?
Wes Welker teased us. He got us excited, and confused, about the start of the season when he responded to a reporter’s question about his recovery from ACL and MCL injuries by saying it was “just the ACL.”
The press went nuts over the contradiction to earlier reports that Welker had torn both ligaments and couldn’t have his ACL operated on until his MCL healed. And it wasn’t until the next day when, according to a Boston.com report, an Associated Press reporter met with Welker in a follow-up and cleared up the situation. Apparently, the injury is the same one he has always had, and is being dealt with. The Boston.com article posted Welker’s comments:
“We just had to wait for it to heal,” Welker told Jeff Latzke, the AP reporter. “We didn’t have to do surgery on it.”
In fact, no one really has any idea when Welker will be ready to play at full strength again.
“It’s hard to put a timetable on anything,” Welker told USA Today.com. “And plus, whenever you put a timetable on it, now people expect you. If you’re not ready then, they’re like, ‘What’s wrong?”
It looks like Brady may be starting the season without his favorite target, who happens to be arguably the best pass-catcher in the NFL.
Everyone’s excited about Torry Holt. Essentially, the future Hall-of-Famer is coming in this season to do the same thing Joey Galloway was expected to do last year, but didn’t. The big difference: Torry Holt is just better.
Holt is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection who ranks 11th in NFL history in receptions, 10th in receiving yards, and third in average yards-per-game with a career average of 77.4 yards. He also has more receptions and receiving yards than anyone in the NFL during the past 10 years, a total that comes as an NFL record for receptions (868) in a decade. He has two Super Bowl appearances, his first in which he set an NFL record for receptions in a Super Bowl by a rookie with 7 catches and109 yards in the St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl XXXIV victory. Holt has 10 games of postseason experience, and is known as a team-oriented guy who spent the prime of his career splitting catches with another elite wide receiver in Isaac Bruce. This bodes well for the upcoming season, because it shows that he won’t have a problem doing the same with Randy Moss this season in New England.
Last season, Holt was stuck with the Jacksonville Jaguars. After leaving an exceptionally miserable team in St. Louis, he signed with a semi-miserable team in Jacksonville that finished last season at 5-11. He worked with a mediocre quarterback in David Garrard and an offense that ranked 19th in passing yards-per-game and 24th in offensive points-per-game. How did he manage? Oh, yeah, he still caught 51 catches for 772 yards while starting only 12 games in his 10th season.
Although the Pats are rolling the dice on another veteran who is well past his prime, similar to the misfire last year with Joey Galloway, they are taking a much safer bet in signing Torry Holt. The numbers Holt put up last year were less than impressive, but show some hope when considering he will move from a run-heavy offense in Jacksonville to one of the league’s premier passing offenses in New England behind Tom Brady. It will be his first chance to work with a good quarterback since Kurt Warner left St. Louis in 2003, and he’s going to take advantage of it. Look for Holt as a big play threat coming out of the gate, and as a quality third or fourth receiver for the Pats down the line, as Wes Welker gets healthier.
Randy Moss is to the Patriots this year as Kevin Garnett was to the Celtics this past year. And that’s a good thing. His best days are definitely behind him, but he is still one of the top players in the league at his position and has that presence on the field that just increases the entire team’s intensity. And, although he isn’t getting any younger, Moss is coming off his best season (besides his record-breaking 2007) since 2003 with the Vikings. Last season, Moss’ reunion with Brady got him 83 catches for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was criticized in the media last season for allegedly not trying hard enough on the field, but his numbers indicate that he produced just as much at age 32 last year as he had any other season since 2003, when he was 26.
The truth about Randy Moss is that he is actually getting older, and it is unfair to expect the same production we saw in his youth. At the beginning of the season, he will attract more double coverage because opposing defenses might not have to worry about a recovering Wes Welker. But, this year brings two new motivating factors. It is a contract year for Moss. That means he is going to want to impress anyone who will want to pay him next year. Also, with the possibility of leaving New England for a less capable team, this season might be his last real shot at getting that Super Bowl ring. This season, expect to see Moss on Sportscenter’s Top 10 at least a few times, and, at the very least, repeat his production from last season.
David Patten isn’t all that new, considering he played for the Patriots for four seasons earlier last decade and was a key part of Brady’s success in all three Super Bowl wins. He hasn’t played a full season since he was in New Orleans in 2007, but that year he put together a 54-catch, 792=yard effort, which is almost as good as his best career season in 2004 (44 catches and 800 yards and 7 TD). Patten might be a little rusty upon his return to the game, considering he was waived last summer by the Cleveland Browns and spent the season out of football. But, all in all, Patten is a 12-year veteran who has a history of great chemistry with Tom Brady and can bring some early relief to the battered Patriots‘ receiving corps.
Currently, Edelman is the stand-in for Wes Welker. He is in the starting spot, above Torry Holt, on the Patriots’ unofficial depth chart on their website. He even looks and plays so much like Welker that we make fun of our friends for confusing the two when Edelman’s on the field, even though we did the same when we first saw him. And we loved watching the unknown, seventh-round rookie make the shift from college quarterback to pass catching receiver.
Last season, he made us believers with every opportunity he had. We asked each other “who the hell is Edelman?” after he returned that punt for a 75-yard touchdown in a preseason game against the Eagles. And we couldn’t ignore him when he first replaced Welker in the first Jets game and led the team with eight receptions and 98 yards. He proved he was tough when, after breaking his wrist in Week 6 against the Titans, he returned to the field four weeks later and played with a cast on his wrist, scoring his first career touchdown in a huge game in Indianapolis.
Last year, Edelman became an NFL receiver right before our eyes. In a season in which he saw limited time and played through a broken wrist, he put up 359 yards on 37 catches in only 11 games. We know he can step up to the plate and fill Welker’s shoes, at least temporarily, as he went off for 10 catches and 103 yards after Welker blew out his knee in Houston. For at least the beginning of this season, expect the 6’0” 198 lb. Edelman to play the role of the 5’9” 185 lb. Welker as the tough, undersized, hardworking receiver in a Pats uniform.
One guy many fans may not know much about is 2010 third-round pick Taylor Price from the University of Ohio. Price brings a little bit of size as a young receiver, showing up at 6’0” 212 lbs. He doesn’t sound like much, as a third rounder from Ohio, but he seems like the kind of receiver Belichick is usually interested in. Price holds the records at the University of Ohio for career receptions (149), receptions in a game with 14 in a 2008 game against Wyoming, and is ranked second all-time in career yards at Ohio with 2,019. Price played in all four seasons with the Ohio Bobcats, including 14 games as a true freshman. He is coming off a season in which he had his career high 56 catches for 784 yards and five touchdowns. His ability to catch passes and get first-downs (he averaged 14 yards-per-catch last season) makes him a good candidate to become a popular Brady target. It’s the kind of job that Brady made Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Julian Edelman famous for. It’s unclear whether Price will have much of an effect at the beginning of the season, but he has the potential to fit in with the offense and become a consistent pass-catcher.
Another guy who is flying under the radar is undrafted rookie Bryan Anderson from Central Michigan. He is a monstrous 6’5” 215 lb. receiver who ran a solid 4.53 40 yard-dash at Central Michigan’s pro day. It’s unclear why he was overlooked in the draft, considering he had 290 career receptions for 3,684 yards and 28 touchdowns at CMU, and is coming off a senior season with 64 receptions for 784 yards and seven touchdowns. He shows potential to break out at any time, since he showed he can during his sophomore year in 2007 when he had 90 receptions for 1,132 yards and 10 touchdowns. If he can work hard, Anderson is a contender to get on the field for the Pats and become a big play threat down the field. If not, then he is another free agent that came and went, and the Patriots don’t waste a draft pick.
Not much to say yet about this 2009 third-round draft pick, besides maybe that pick should have gone somewhere else. Tate was a great talent with the University of North Carolina, known for his speed on special teams. He couldn’t contribute anything to the Patriots’ offense, other than one rush for 11 yards, because of a torn ACL and a positive marijuana test. If the 22-year-old can get healthy, and clean up his urine, he can get another crack at making an appearance in a Patriots’ offense where anyone can potentially contribute.
But, something about this case smells a lot like Chad Jackson. Hopefully, he doesn’t have the same trouble coming back from the injury, and hopefully we don’t end up talking about him the same way.
Analyze the stats, and it seems the Patriots‘ offense and its receivers will be in top form this season to compete among the league’s best passing offenses in New Orleans, Indianapolis and San Diego. Moss is much more capable than the press is giving him credit for, Holt is bringing plenty of experience and some winner’s mentality to the table, and Wes Welker has always been so tough, there’s no reason we shouldn’t expect him to come back with another 100+ catch season.