Patriots Position Audit: Wide Receiver

Deion Branch's return stabilized the WR corps in 2010. Source: Yardbarker.com

During the lull in news while we wait for a new CBA or potential lockout throughout the week, I’ll evaluate each position on the Patriots’ current roster and look at potential draft picks or free agents that could be brought in to improve the position or add depth. Today’s position audit looks at the wide receiver position. Check out the position audit for QB here and the position audit for RB here.

Current Players on the Roster:

  • Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater, Buddy Farnham, Darnell Jenkins, Shun White, Tyree Barnes

Position Strength:

  • Strong

Position Depth:

  • Strong

Position Need:

  • Low

Possible Free Agent Pick-Ups:

  • Donte Stallworth, Sidney Rice, Mike Sims-Walker, Brad Smith, Randy Moss

Possible Draft Picks:

  • Leonard Hankerson (Miami), Torrey Smith (Maryland), Edmond Gates (Abilene-Christian)

Analysis:

The wide receiver position is one of the biggest areas of debate among fans and analysts as to the need at the position. Some think that the Pats need a #1, outside, speedy receiver who can stretch the field. They point to the playoff game against the Jets to back up their contention, noting that the Jets shut down the inside and underneath routes and Brady couldn’t go over the top of the defense. I differ in opinion with this point of view. I feel that the Pats needed (and need) a stronger running game. That would have taken pressure off of Brady and the wide-outs and forced the Jets defense to respect the run, increasing the effectiveness of the play action. It’s easy to point to that last game because it was a crushing final memory of the season. However, nobody was complaining when the team put up over 30 points each game for the second half of the season. In fact, most were embracing the return to the classic Patriots underneath passing game that was missing when Randy Moss arrived.

Whether the Patriots agree with me or not will become evident with the offseason moves they make. If they go for a WR in the first round with one of their two first round picks, then we’ll know that they feel Brady needs an outside speedster. Hankerson and Smith fall into that late first-early second round range. Gates is an interesting prospect because he had a great Combine, including leading all wide-outs with a 4.37-40. The Pats could target him at some point in the second or third round.

Aside from Brad Smith and Donte Stallworth, the other guys would be marquee names that would bring that #1 receiver threat on the outside. Moss is questionable but if he brought his 2007 work ethic for one or two more years he could somewhat return to his old form. However, I think some behind-the-scenes stuff we’re not in on will likely prevent his return to the team. Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Smith (the Panthers one) are players that have been mentioned as trade targets, though Fitzgerald is more of a long shot. Former Patriots Tedy Bruschi noted that Bill Belichick has a lot of respect for Steve Smith, so he could be a legitimate trade target.

One player that gets overlooked is Taylor Price, the Patriots’ 3rd round pick last offseason. If they feel he can be a reliable target on the outside for Brady, they could stand pat with what they’ve got. Wes Welker will be one year removed from knee surgery and Deion Branch will have an offseason to work with Brady and further cement his feet into the current system. Brandon Tate is another player to watch develop, as last year was really his rookie year after missing his initial season due to injury. We’ll find out this year whether he can become a reliable, speedy outside target. Darnell Jenkins was a preseason fan favorite in 2010 and he will be a player to watch as well.

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Tags: Deion Branch New England Patriots NFL Patriots Personnel Moves Patriots Roster Taylor Price Wes Welker Wide Receiver

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