When a team structures their aerial assault around a receiver or receivers, you KNOW they're stars. Such is the case with Wes Welker and Randy Moss. The one-two punch that decimated defenses during 2007, Moss owned the sidelines while Welker provided plenty of checkdown or slant options to keep the chains moving. If you're new to this forum, you may not know of my insane man crush with Wes Welker. Sure, Moss gets an enormous amount of credit for what he does and usually gets the flashy touchdown. But Welker is grinding it out, yard after slot route yard. Our Colts contributor-in-residence, shake n bake, suggested Welker takes "long handoffs". Aptly put, in my mind.
In my opinion, these guys had the element of surprise for the first half of 2007 until teams got film on them. Looking at their production from first to second half, things tapered off through no fault of their own; there was simply more available information for oppositions to look at and teams worked hard to shut them down. Donte Stallworth was an option, but he never panned out, in my opinion. Jabar Gaffney filled the role as #3/#4 when needed, but it wasn't enough of a difference. In comes Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis. With that in mind, let's walk through the receivers.
Randy Moss - It's hard to find fault with a guy who holds the regular season touchdown record for wide receivers. In truly epic fashion, Moss broke the receiving record with 23 and Tom Brady broke the passing record with 50 on the same play. A Patriots fan couldn't have asked for a cooler moment. Brady steps into the pocket, launches a bomb downfield and takes a hit milliseconds after. Moss pulls down the beautifully thrown pass and walks into history.
When Brady went down in 2008, Moss and Cassel struggled to find a rhythm. As an elite receiver, should Randy have been able to fight away DB's or is there some truth to Brady simply knowing where to put the ball with Moss? Opinions vary, but what I do know is Moss wasn't the same in 2008. Rival fans were practically chanting, "Here comes the old Randy!!", but that's a superficial arguement at best. Cassel needed safe routes and one of the tactics was to turn #81 inside after 10 or so yards. Frightening, in my mind. Moss is tall and lanky, a target for a hungry linebacker; he doesn't have the quickness and footwork of his diminutive teammate. Keep him dancing down the sidelines 30 something yards downfield or prowling the back corners of the endzone.
Wes Welker - Is it a stretch to say Wes has been one of the most influential Patriots receivers in the past 10 years? Not to me because I'm biased; Wes is, hands down, my favorite Patriot and is the jersey I wear on gameday. If the play isn't designed for Wes, he's Brady's first choice for a checkdown or option. In the reception category, Wes is a machine tying for the record in 2007 and #2 in 2008 (subtract Steeler Ryan Clark's game ending hit and Wes, more than likely, would've had the 2008 record, too). Wes's "stop short, spin around" antics are legendary for leaving DB's flatfooted. The "Little Engine that Can" is a YAC machine with 5.7 in 2007 followed by 6.8 in 2008. He's the chain mover of this crowd.
Greg Lewis - Known as "Glew" by Philadelphia teammates and fans alike, Lewis joins the Patriots for his seventh year in the league. A steady producer throughout his career, Greg will also see time on kickoff and punt returns. But, what he could add more than anything else, is a midfield option between Welker and Moss. Three inches taller than Wes, he may have the reach to pull down those passes while mixed in with linebackers. However, an interesting twist is he's been observed having a VERY long stride during OTA's. Possible long ball duties?
Joey Galloway - A shortened 2008 due to injury is not the place to look. 2005 - 2007 he was a machine exceeding 1,000 yards each year. As a punt and kick returner, he's no slouch either. The question will be does Galloway have enough gas left after 14 seasons in the NFL? It's hard to tell, but I do think he can provide another deep threat for Brady and, if all else fails, a decoy for Moss. However, if things click and Joey proves the naysayers wrong, a Moss/Galloway/Welker lineup on the same side will scare the daylights out of DB's.
Julian Edelman - A lot has been written about this rookie and you can understand why. He's a quarterback, running back, and wide receiver all rolled into one. If he's even average at these positions at an NFL level, he'll be a consistent threat. Wildcat anyone?
Sam Aiken, Robert Ortiz, Terrence Nunn, Tyree Barnes, Matthew Slater, Brandon Tate, Shun White - In this group, Patriots veterans Aiken and Slater will have the advantage. Tyree Barnes has shown some consistency in OTA's and could challenge Aiken and Slater for a spot. Naval Academy grad Shun White is a wait-and-see prospect as he may not hit the Patriots for a few years (Naval Academy grads owe the government military service for their free education).
It's no mystery Moss and Welker will be the main guys, but what do you do when defenses blanket them? Do you go with the potentially dangerous running attack we're developing? Checkdown to Faulk? Or maybe pull in Lewis for a three wideout and Galloway for a four? Whatever the scenario, I think we're looking at some crazy combinations that'll really make defenses think. And if we can mix it up, maybe keep defenses guessing throughout the year.