New England Patriots: Top Position Battles on Offense Heading into Training Camp

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Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) catches a touchdown pass ahead of Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas (29) during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots have their top two receivers set with outside receiver and 2014 surprise contributor Brandon LaFell and slot receiver Julian Edelman. LaFell was a free agent signing from Carolina where he had just 49 receptions in 2013. LaFell finished with 74 receptions for 953 yards and 7 touchdowns (all stats from unless otherwise noted) in his first year in New England’s offense but that he did it with virtually no production in the first quarter of the season: In the season opener LaFell had zero receptions on six targets in the loss to Miami and put up no receptions with no targets in week two against Minnesota.

Edelman finished his second season as Tom Brady’s top target with 92 regular season receptions for 972 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2014 after his 105 receptions for 1,056 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2013. This was after Edelman had less than 70 receptions combined in his first four seasons in New England. With a strong postseason seeing him pull in 26 receptions in three games to help the Patriots win the Super Bowl, Edelman maintains his stranglehold on the number one wide receiver role in New England.

Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson (17) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Patriots expected 2013 top draft pick Aaron Dobson to be a primary target for quarterback Tom Brady. Dobson has unique size, speed, and athleticism which allowed him to make plays all over field as a rookie. However, during that season he was injured in the second half of the season and was essentially done for the season with a foot injury later requiring surgery.

In 2014, Dobson was on the sidelines and LaFell swiped the number two receiver role in the offense. Dobson never got healthy suffering a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve once he recovered from foot surgery.

Danny Amendola was signed as a free agent prior to the 2013 season as the presumed replacement for Wes Welker. After a gritty week one performance where he had ten receptions for 104 yards while playing the second half of the come-from-behind win over the Buffalo Bills with a torn adductor, Amendola missed the next three games and when he returned to the field his job belonged to Julian Edelman. By the end of the season Brady seemingly lost trust in Amendola and he had just one target and no receptions in the 2013 AFC Championship game loss to the Denver Broncos despite the receiving group being ravaged by injuries.

Last year saw Amendola again buried on the depth chart behind Edelman. After having just 11 receptions through week 13, Amendola began to play his way back into the offense and catching Brady’s eye on the field. With 15 receptions in the final four games of 2014,  Amendola became a primary weapon at last in New England getting regular playing time in the three wide receiver set.

Playing almost 50% of the snaps on offense in the postseason, Amendola had a pair of touchdown catches in the Divisional Playoff game versus Baltimore (including a 51 yard strike from fellow slot receiver Edelman) and had five catches for 48 yards and a touchdown against Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Aug 15, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Boyce (82) runs the ball against Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin (22) in the first half during the preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 42-35. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The forgotten receiver in the position battle for the number three wide receiver is dark horse candidate Josh Boyce. Boyce was a fourth round draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. However, he did not have the early impact that fellow rookies Aaron Dobson and the since released Kenbrell Thompkins had early in the season.

Later in 2013 Boyce did finally get a chance to play due to injuries to Thompkins and Boyce and did flash some promise in the offense and on kick returns in the three games he played before injuries ended his season. Able to play in the slot or outside the versatile young receiver appears to have untapped potential.

In 2014 with the emergence of Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell there was no room on the 53-man roster for the young receiver from TCU. He was part of the final cuts and ended up on the practice squad for almost all of 2014 and now is a longshot to carve out a role and stick on the roster. He will have his work cut out for him to earn a roster spot in 2015 with Amendola and Dobson competing for the key role on the offense.

Next: Position Battle #2: Backup Tight End