The New England Patriots competition at wide receiver is a heated one between three veteran wideouts in Deion Branch, Dont’e Stallworth, and Jabar Gaffney. They are all fighting for two roster spots, so one solid veteran will be out. The winner of the battle will get to be the Patriots No. 3 wide receiver, although that puts them behind four players as far as targets go.
Last night was a big night for two of the wide receivers in the three-man battle, as Jabar Gaffney is still out with a knee injury. The performances from Dont’e Stallworth and Deion Branch were in full focus, and they both performed at the opposite level.
Stallworth may be faster and more athletic than Branch and has impressive speed for his age, but none of that was on display against the Philadelphia Eagles. He struggled to just one catch on six targets, but he can take some solace that his lone catch went for 20 yards. Stallworth was unable to get open against the Eagles, and he has been plagued with drops throughout training camp.
Meanwhile, Deion Branch missed just one snap all game of the 74 the Patriots handed to him. He made the most of it by catching three passes on four targets for 51 yards. Branch was stretching the field with sharp route-running. His veteran know-how was at its best, with a highlight being his catch on a route that beat Nnamdi Asomugha. Stallworth (57 snaps) was also featured heavily in the game, but his performance was not up to par.
If you look at the poll on the right side of our site as you scroll down, you will see that most of our readers believed that Stallworth has a better chance of making the roster than Branch prior to the game (numbers are a bit skewed as the numbers even out due to last night’s game). Gaffney is still in the lead of both of them, and it will be interesting to see how he fairs out when he comes back. To me, he’s still on top of those guys.
Before last night, I was in agreement that Branch looked like the odd man out. He looked solid in practice, but I liked the different type of skill-set that Stallworth can provide to this team with his athletic ability. After last night’s game, I’m not so sure. The tables have turned and Branch is on top, but Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will give us a better perspective on the wide receiver battle.
By the way, I think Julian Edelman’s roster spot is safe due to his punt returning ability and versatility. He is the only wide receiver out of the four who can also play in the slot.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.