Our New England Patriots 2013 Player Profiles series continues with yet another rookie in Aaron Dobson, and he is, for my money, the most important rookie on the Patriots roster right now. Why else are we already pouring over his drops and lack of connection with Tom Brady in OTAs and minicamp? Dobson was taken over Keenan Allen and Markus Wheaton in the second round of the draft for a reason, and the Patriots believe/hope he can be the answer as the team’s “X” receiver.
But can Dobson, a mere rookie, succeed where a veteran in Brandon Lloyd failed last season? Dobson has a big advantage over Lloyd, and that comes in his speed. He possesses wheels in the low 4.4s, and that is pretty mouth-watering when you look at Dobson’s 6’3″, 210 pound frame. Everyone loves to reel off the stat that he didn’t drop a single pass at Marshall last season (I enjoy dropping that as well, as you can see), but Dobson does have small hands and had drop concerns written up by some draft experts online. Those drop issues have manifested themselves early on in the offseason, but I don’t have a huge issue with drops. At the end of the day, drops are only one part of the equation, and I don’t get the feeling that Dobson is one of those receivers whose drops will undermine NFL success. To be honest with you, I can’t name a receiver who has been bad solely because of drops; there are always other reasons.
Dobson was the last Patriots rookie to sign his deal, and he received the standard four-year pact after being the team’s second pick in the second round. A friend of mine brought up an interesting point that I would like to share with you on Dobson, “You know how everyone criticizes the Pats for not being good at drafting receivers? Well, there will be more ammo if Allen ends up being better than Dobson.”
Anyway, Dobson made the gutsy call to don the number 17, a la famous Patriots WR busts Taylor Price and Chad Jackson. I like that confidence from Dobson, but it’s going to take a lot more than confidence for him to be the kind of receiver the Pats need him to be. With Aaron Hernandez out of the picture, a lot more rests on the hands of the various, uncertain commodities at wide receiver. Hernandez was more receiver than tight end, and, at the end of the day, his departure puts a strain on all the pass-catchers as a whole. Dobson is the most important of them for our purposes, because he is the most touted of the draft picks and has a skill-set that most closely matches a potential No. 1 receiver.
One thing to keep in mind is Dobson’s rookie status and how it relates to developing a connection with Brady. For those of you who are discouraged that a connection has been slow to develop, remember that this is normal for a rookie receiver. The Patriots and Brady don’t anticipate there being a connection until training camp, and even then it will take some time. I mean, it never seemed like Brandon Lloyd developed a connection for an entire season, and he’s a veteran in this league. It takes time, but the concerns are relevant given how difficult it is to get down the Patriots system; a system that will likely change a bit with the loss of Hernandez.
Dobson has all the tools to be a No. 1 wide receiver in this league. He is smart, a solid route-runner, can make absolutely amazing catches, his hands should be solid, he has great size, and he has good speed. What intrigues me the most is Dobson’s ability to do everything on the outside, as he has the speed to stretch the field and the ability to move the football on intermediate routes as well. That’s what you want out of a No. 1 receiver- that all-around playmaking ability. NFL Films guru Greg Cosell is one of the best around, and his praise of Dobson is especially noteworthy. He praised Dobson for his hands, size, and speed and compared him to the great Larry Fitzgerald. Mike Reiss compared him to Miles Austin due to his size, ability to make great catches in traffic, and the fact that he has good-but-not-great speed.
Austin and Fitzgerald are both fair comparisons to give a loose idea of Dobson’s skill-set, and it would honestly be perfect for Dobson to play like a mini-Austin (mini in skill, not size) as a rookie. The Patriots need somebody to break out as a legitimate receiving threat, and Dobson has that playmaking ability. He can stretch the field, but he can also be an Austin-like player on intermediate routes. The latter might be more important for the Patriots right now, and the onus is on Dobson to quickly pan out as a rookie. The other receivers also need to fill in their roles, but Dobson is a rookie (and, by definition, an uncertain commodity) who needs to step up. If he doesn’t, then somebody like Donald Jones or Josh Boyce will have to step up for him. The Patriots don’t have any sure things at the wide receiver position, but they do have talent and a few players who have the upside to make an impact.
Hopefully Dobson can be one of them, and training camp will be a big test for him. He will need to show that he knows the playbook, can develop a rapport with Brady, and can also be something resembling “the guy” on the outside for the Patriots. If he can, then Brady’s life just got a whole lot easier.