3. Meet The New Stars in the Making: The New Wide Receivers
One constant criticism of the New England Patriots offense since wide receiver Randy Moss punched his own ticket out of town has been the lack of a receiver either with the physical size to operate outside the numbers, the speed and athleticism to be a consistent deep threat, and the size and route running ability to be an intermediate (10 to 20 yards downfield) threat. The Patriots were fortunate to get a few years out of Randy Moss, who was able to fill all three roles in the offense, but players of Moss’s skill, athleticism, and football intelligence are few and far between. This season the Patriots revamped their offense, grown stagnant targeting the two tight ends and slot receiver Wes Welker extensively, by importing a number of new options to fill the wide receiver position. Between the draft and free-agency, the Patriots have an intriguing number of new players with different skill sets in place to move the offense into yet another phase of its evolution.
The Patriots spent 2nd and 4th round picks on wide receivers, importing 2nd round pick Aaron Dobson and 4th round pick Josh Boyce. Both receivers bring different skill sets to the position, but both should get every opportunity to contribute. Be it outside the numbers or in the slot, Dobson may be one of the few young receivers to step in and contribute immediately. With a Randy Moss frame, Dobson has the size and speed to become a deep threat immediately on the outside and use his soft hands and big frame to convert short completions for first downs.
Josh Boyce may be a bit raw at wide receiver, but his pure football speed and explosiveness makes him a must-watch player. This is a prospect who ran a 4.34 40 yard dash with a broken toe according to reports. Just a dash under 6 feet, Boyce is hardly frail, and had excellent production in the college game at TCU and likely tumbled down the draft board due to not having a solid quarterback in his final college season. Expect both draft picks to be expected to keep defenses honest and leave at least one safety deep when they are on the field.
The Patriots also have young wide receiver Kamar Aiken still on the team, and undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins was an intriguing signing. Aiken has seemingly been hanging around the fringes of the roster for years. With good size and speed, expect Aiken to compete for a last spot on the roster and ultimately return to the practice squad this year. Undrafted free agent T.J. Moe is on injured reserve and may be able to return next season to add depth at slot receiver.
The Patriots made a number of value-add signings at wide receiver in free agency. They imported veteran Lavelle Hawkins, Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, and Danny Amendola. They only carry-over at wide receiver from 2012 oft-injured slot receiver Julian Edelman as free agent Wes Welker was allowed to leave, and veterans Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch were not invited back.
Amendola is expected to not only fill the role of Wes Welker, but expand the slot receiver role by adding more intermediate routes to the offense and giving it the chance to pick up larger chunks of yardage. Long a target of New England, Amendola will have the opportunity to pick up the hundreds of targeted passes to Welker these past few years and allow the team to add more speed and big play ability to the slot receiver position. It is mind-boggling that Amendola is considered by the average fan to be a downgrade from an aging Wes Welker. Bill Belichick was not bringing back Wes Welker for any less than a back-up slot receiver price, and as much as that offended Welker, he was hardly bowled over by offers in free agency. Why? It’s the system as much as the receiver. With Edelman and Amendola at the slot receiver position in 2013, Wes Welker will be an afterthought. Bill Belichick, Brian Daboll, and Josh McDaniels all firmly believe this unequivocally, as was blatantly obvious by their off-season actions.
Addressing the “loss” of unpopular outside receiver Brandon Lloyd, solid veteran Michael Jenkins was imported. The longtime Falcons and Vikings receiver easily replaces Lloyd as an outside the numbers possession receiver with the added bonus of the size to contribute in the red zone. Wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins is a five year veteran of Tennessee, and is expected to fulfill the role of former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch as a smaller receiver who can work across the middle of the field as well as outside the hashmarks. Add in former Bills wide receiver Donald Jones to the mix as a bigger receiver who was unappreciated in Buffalo and brings an intriguing mix of size and speed and could blossom in New England with future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady throwing him passes instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick.