As you probably have heard, today the Pittsburgh Steelers matched the Patriots offer on receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Now, Sanders will be playing for Pittsburgh in 2013 instead of the Pats. The Patriots do get to keep this years third round pick, and they save a bit of cap space in the process. But in my opinion this is a big blow to New England.
As of right now, the weakest part of the Patriots offense is by far at wide receiver. They have Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, and Matthew Slater under contract. Do any of those names scare you? I didn’t think so. With the exception of Amendola, I don’t think any of these guys are capable of being solid starting receivers for the Patriots. I love Edelman and Jenkins, but Edelman is more suited to be a third receiver in an offense, and at this point in Jenkins’ career he is pretty much a fourth or fifth receiver. This leaves the Pats in a bit of a predicament. With tight end Rob Gronkowski’s availability for the start of the season in doubt, the Pats are relatively low on quality offensive weapons. At this point in free agency, the only feasible way to add weapons would be through the NFL draft. With this being said, I hate receivers being drafted high in the draft, just because in general they are very risky picks. However, in this years draft class there are a lot of quality prospects available for the Patriots to choose from.
Justin Hunter is the first guy I would like to see the Patriots draft. Granted, he is projected to be a high second rounder at this point, but I think he has the potential to be great. The Patriots need a big receiver that has the ability to take the top off of a defense. That is the main thing (and only thing) missing from the Pats offensive attack. I think that Hunter could fit perfectly into this role. Hunter is a 6’4 and he runs a 4.36 40 yard dash time. That is pretty damn impressive. Now he is only around 196 pounds and that can present some durability issues and that is one of the risks the Pats may have to be willing to take. He also is very raw, but I think the Pats can really develop this guy into an explosive player in this league.
Two other guys I really like, and think the Pats should draft are Marquise Goodwin of Texas and Markus Wheaton of Oregon State. Goodwin is projected to go around the fourth round, while Wheaton is more of a second or third round projection. I know a lot more about Goodwin because he went to Texas and I watch pretty much every Texas football game. Goodwin is very explosive, as he ran a 4.21 40 time at the University of Texas pro day. He can really take a top off of a defense if given one on one coverage. He also has very good return skills and can take two yard screen passes and turn them into 90 yard touchdowns. He is a very raw route runner and is very small at 5’9 and 170 pounds, but his ability to take it to the house every time he touches the ball is enough to give him a shot in my opinion. Wheaton is not nearly as explosive as Goodwin, but I think he is a much better receiver prospect. He is a much better route runner, and is just a more polished product. He knows how to get open, and can handle press coverage better than most college football players can. He is fast as well as he ran a 4.40 40 time at Oregon State’s pro day, and while that is not as fast as Goodwin, it is still very impressive.
I know it is just April, and I shouldn’t be freaking out about the receiver depth, but I am. The Patriots pride themselves on their offense, and while I am very optimistic about the defense for 2013, I still think that the offense will be the strength of the team. If they aren’t able to improve their receiving core then, I really doubt that this offense will be as elite as it has been over the past few years. This could create a lot of problems in New England. I trust in Belichick, and I am sure that they will address this situation, but I really hope that they do it sooner, rather than later. The sooner they take care of this then the sooner they can focus on the defensive side of the ball, which despite all of the moves the Pats have made, still needs help.