Some New England Patriots fans would like to see Brandon Lloydback in a Patriots uniform due to the uncertainty of Tom Brady‘s pass-catchers, while other Patriots fans believe that a reunion is out of the question. The Patriots would have paid out Brandon Lloyd $5 million this season, but they decided to decline the $3 million option ($2 million base salary) and move on with a different “X” receiver.
Losing Lloyd took out a known commodity at the wide receiver position for the Patriots, but it also allowed them to go young. It seems to me like the Patriots decided to go with a youth movement at the position, as the only player above 30 on the Patriots wide receiver corps is Michael Jenkins. Back in March, I wondered if Jones would be Lloyd’s replacement on the outside.
As a justification for bringing back Lloyd, people always bring up this, “74 catches, 911 yards.” Sounds like a strong statement, right? The fact of the matter is that it is far too simplistic, because you can’t just reel off catches and yards without context. Lloyd did have a 70+catch season, but he also used up 131 targets to do it. He caught only 56.5% of everything thrown at him. A 56.5% catch rate with Tom Brady throwing it to you is unacceptable, and the only player on the team who had a lower catch rate was Deion Branch.
The other stats don’t look so good either. A 56.5% catch rate is terrible, but it can actually be solid if the player did most of his work deep downfield. For instance, Brian Hartline, like Lloyd, also had 74 catches on 131 targets. However, he also averaged a stellar 14.6 yards per reception, and that ability to stretch the field gave him 8.3 yards per target. Lloyd, on the other hand, finished the year with 12.3 yards per reception. That was good enough to give him seven yards per target, but that total was good for fourth on the team behind Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, and Julian Edelman.
If the Patriots decided to pick up Brandon Lloyd’s option, then they would have been paying $5 million to a player who was, essentially, less efficient than Julian Edelman. There’s also a matter of Lloyd’s inability to generate anything after the catch, and I have this beautiful stat to share from the Pro Football Focus. Among 105 qualified players in YAC per reception, Brandon Lloyd finished in 98th with 2.4 YAC per reception. Tied with him? Jerome Simpson (he was tied because he had an injury that seriously hindered him) and Titus Young. That’s not the best company to be with.
Alright, so I hated on Lloyd enough. What’s good about him? Well, he’s one of the best screen blocking wide receivers in the league, which is something Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen need to thank him for. Lloyd also finished with the third-highest pass-catching grade from PFF on the team behind Gronkowski and Welker. But is that actually good? I mean, to me, it’s pretty obvious that he was the third-best pass-catcher on the team last year, and it would have been sad if he was worse than Edelman, Aaron Hernandez (hobbled considerably by injury), and an already well-aged Deion Branch. Now where did Lloyd rank overall among wide receivers in PFF grades? 37th. Where did Lloyd rank per the advanced stat WPA? 37th.
Lloyd wasn’t as bad as some people say, but the 74 catches and 911 yards are completely misleading numbers. Lloyd wasn’t one of the top 32 wide receivers in the league last season, even if he was nestled in the top 40. He wasn’t the “X” receiver the Patriots were looking for, which means that he wasn’t a true No. 1 receiver. The Patriots expected Lloyd to come in, stretch the field, and be a legitimate threat, but he was merely average. Lloyd had 131 targets, and all he did was turn them into 911 yards. The only other wide receivers in the top 2o in the NFL in targets (Lloyd was 17th) to have less receiving yards were Larry Fitzgerald and Justin Blackmon, and they both had awful quarterbacks throwing to them. Lloyd had Tom Brady.
I enjoyed watching Lloyd’s circus catches, but they were really just a saving grace for him. It is true that Lloyd couldn’t gain separation from defensive backs, and I liken Lloyd to an outfielder. There are some outfielders who make amazing diving catches, and they are touted by highlight reels as great defensive players and such. But when you peel back the curtain, you’ll see that the reason why they have to make those amazing catches is because they aren’t fast enough or, like Curtis Granderson, take awful angles to the ball. Like an outfielder who covers up a fundamental issue by making great catches, Lloyd was sometimes able to cover up his lack of ability in gaining separation by making diving catches. Whereas a player like Wes Welker makes seemingly “easy” receptions, because he makes it easy on himself through his innate ability to get open. Quite frankly, Lloyd had difficulties getting separation, and that’s evident in the sheer number of targets that were wasted. He also offered nothing after the catch, and that’s not a lethal combination.
There is a reason why Lloyd has not found work in this league, and that’s because he was extremely inefficient last season. Every wide receiver metric (whether it be on PFF or Advanced NFL Stats) has Lloyd as a mediocre receiver last season, and his only big assets were good hands and screen blocking. Lloyd wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t the No. 1 receiver the Patriots were looking for. In fact, he wasn’t close and wasn’t worth the $5 million it would have taken to keep him. I could still see the Patriots bringing back Lloyd if they feel desperate, but I doubt that happens. The Patriots are going through a youth movement at the position, and I am quite content to see if a guy like Aaron Dobson can be the “X” for the Patriots. He is an uncertain proposition for sure, but he has a better chance of being a No. 1 receiver than Lloyd at this stage. Lloyd, to me, is a No. 2 receiver at best, and you have to dock his mediocre numbers further under the context that he had an elite quarterback throwing it to him.
As for the character concerns, I don’t believe that they were the reason why the Patriots released Lloyd. Back when he played for the Denver Broncos, apparently some people in the organization thought he was “bipolar”. Lloyd is different and has some mood swings, but that lack of locker room synergy from Lloyd was likely just a small piece of the pie and possibly further incentive to cut ties with an under-achieving veteran. There is also the fact that Lloyd never seemed to develop the necessary rapport with Brady, and that is more concerning than a lack of connect in the locker room. I wouldn’t completely rule out a reunion with Lloyd, but it is almost impossible for me to envision the Patriots bringing back Lloyd. The 74 catches and 911 yards are misleading, and all of the underlying numbers (catch rate, yards per target, PFF analytics) back that up. It’s easy for me to go too far on Lloyd’s numbers, but the fact of the matter is that Lloyd is a No. 2 receiver at best (PFF grades and WPA are not rate stats, so they boost players who receive a high amount of targets) and did not deserve to make $5 million with possible character issues.