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With the start of training camp just one week away, it’s time to look at the state of the Patriot’s wide receivers heading into the 2014 season. The group was the subject of much criticism last season. While Julian Edelman emerged into a solid replacement for Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and rookie Aaron Dobson struggled to stay on the field for the Pats.
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The receiving core is relatively the same group that contributed to the league’s third ranked scoring offense a year ago. The one notable addition during the off-season was ex-Panther Brandon LaFell. The former Carolina receiver had a solid campaign in 2013, netting 627 yards on 49 receptions with 5 touchdowns. At 6’3″ LaFell offers tremendous versatility at the position, as he can play both in the slot and on the outside.
Expectations for LaFell should be tame. Dobson (assuming he’s healthy) and Edelman seem to be entrenched as the teams top two receivers, but LaFell should fight for the third or fourth spot with a number of other players. One advantage that he has is his size, and ability to play inside gives the offense something that nobody else on the roster can.
The one thing the Patriots don’t lack at receiver is bodies. Dobson, Edelman, and Matthew Slater are locks to make the team, but after that there are five players competing for three to four open spots. I would guess that LaFell, Amendola, and Josh Boyce have the early lead on those final spots, but Kenbrell Thompkins could assure himself of a spot with another strong camp (or if the team commits to keeping six true wide receivers).
The one mystery at receiver is 7th round pick Jeremy Gallon. The ex-Michigan Wolverine caught 89 passes in college last season, and he’s extremely agile in the slot. A season on the practice squad seems like the most likely scenario for Gallon, but if he has a breakout camp he could push Thompkins, Boyce, or even Danny Amendola for the final spot at receiver.
We are now very far removed from the years where Patriot receivers such as Randy Moss and Wes Welker put up god-like numbers. Patriots fans should lower their expectations for this group. Instead, look for them to have a solid impact, and to (hopefully) feature as a complement to Rob Gronkowski in the passing attack. Expect another 90+ catch season for Julian Edeleman, and if he stays healthy, Aaron Dobson could approach 900 yards with 8 touchdowns.