Jun 17, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) has the ball intercepted by cornerback Malcolm Butler (29) during mini camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Positional Preview: Wide Receivers

In the time leading up to the beginning of training camp, we will be bringing you previews for each New England Patriots positional group. Up next is the wide receivers.

Wide Receivers: (12)

Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Johnson, Greg Orton, Matthew Slater, Wilson Van Hooser, Reese Wiggins

Easily the most intriguing position to watch this summer is this group of wide receivers. It isn’t a wide open competition, as they are returning the majority of their contributors from last year, but it will be interesting to see how everybody improved, and who will win the specific battles for the final few spots on the roster.

The way I see it, the Patriots will carry either six or seven receivers on opening day of the regular season. This of course includes Matthew Slater, who is really just a specialist on punts and kickoffs.

Five of these spots are filled. Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Matthew Slater and Brandon LaFell are all pretty much guaranteed a spot on the final roster. They all are talented, and will be expected to produce in 2014. That leaves us with seven guys competing for one or two slots on the roster. This sounds like tough competition, but I think we can narrow the battle down to a few players.

Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, and Jeremy Gallon are the three guys that I think have the best chance at finding a spot on this team. The others could definitely surprise us in training camp, but as of right now, I don’t believe the other five guys have the necessary skills to overtake either Thompkins, Boyce, or Gallon.

Gallon is already at a disadvantage, for a few reasons. The first is he is a rookie, and the other two aren’t. Earning time on the field in Tom Brady‘s offense requires not only physical talent, but the brains to learn the system, and know where to be in certain situations. Thompkins and Boyce aren’t experts by any stretch of the imagination, but they have a year of experience over Gallon, which is huge in this business.

The second reason Gallon is behind the eight ball, is he missed some time in OTA’s, and minicamps over the last couple of weeks. Brady himself has said that missing time at this stage is never good for younger players, specifically rookies. I still think Gallon has enough talent to potentially work his way onto the roster over the next few months, but he is behind Boyce and Thompkins right now.

For the two second year players, Boyce and Thompkins, it is pretty neck and neck. I was very hard on Thompkins coming into this offseason, and I honestly didn’t think he had a chance at making the final roster. But based on the reports that came out of minicamp, Thompkins took advantage of LaFell and Dobson missing time, and really impressed everybody in attendance. He is a good route runner, but lacks exceptional athletic ability. He is just “solid” everywhere. Nothing that blows you away, but nothing that really makes you question why he is in the NFL. For right now, he is looking pretty good regarding those final roster spots.

As for Boyce, he is kind of the complete opposite (in a way). He has a ton of athletic talent, specifically his speed and explosive quickness. He really jumps out at you when watching a Patriots game. Boyce could potentially be that explosive vertical threat that this offense needs. Granted, he isn’t a big guy, but when you can simply run past everybody, you don’t need to be that big. However he isn’t as polished as Thompkins is, which is a big negative when playing with someone like Tom Brady. Hopefully Boyce comes out in a few weeks ready to match up with Thompkins’ route running ability, because he will definitely need it to outshine the former Bearcat.

Overall, this receiver position looks to be set up well for 2014. The starting trio of Dobson, Amendola, and Edelman should wreak havoc this season, as they have only gotten better over this offseason. Amendola and Edelman were lighting it up in minicamp, per reports. I can’t wait to see how those two attack the middle of opposing defenses this year.

The rest of the group will provide solid competition for each other, and that final battle between Boyce, Thompkins, and Gallon will be extremely exciting to keep an eye on. Contrary to last year, there is a ton of familiarity in this group, and the Pats will be rewarded come September.

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Tags: Aaron Dobson Brandon LaFell Danny Amendola Jeremy Gallon Josh Boyce Julian Edelman Kenbrell Thompkins New England Patriots

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