Off-Season New England Patriots Questions: Wide Receivers

The New England Patriots ended the 2009 season with a clear problem on offense- there was no #3 receiver on the roster. There were players who could be a potential #4 or #5 on the depth chart, but no player had the necessary skills to be a successful and consistent #3.

Looking over the past years, one can see how the Patriots offense typically spread the ball to its receivers- and how last year compared. What type of distribution leads to success and what type leads to demise?

2001 -

1) Troy Brown - 33% of pass completions, 36% of receiving yards

2) David Patten - 17% of pass completions, 23% of receiving yards

Others) No real #3, but the running backs and tight ends split the rest of the receptions.

2002 -

1) Troy Brown - 26% of pass completions, 24% of receiving yards

2) David Patten - 16% of pass completions, 22% of receiving yards

3) Deion Branch - 11.5% of pass completions, 13% of receiving yards

Others) Running backs and tight ends made up the rest of the receptions.

2003 -

1) Deion Branch - 18% of pass completions, 22% of receiving yards

2) Troy Brown - 13% of pass completions, 13% of receiving yards

3) David Givens - 11% of pass completions, 14% of receiving yards

4) Bethel Johnson - 5% of pass completions, 5% of receiving yards

Others) Mostly tight ends and running backs (with Faulk being the #2 receiver on the team).

2004 -

1) David Givens - 19% of pass completions, 24% of receiving yards

2) David Patten - 15% of pass completions, 22% of receiving yards

3) Deion Branch - 12% of pass completions, 12% of receiving yards

4) Troy Brown - 6% of pass completions, 5% of receiving yards

5) Bethel Johnson - 3% of pass completions, 5% of receiving yards

2005 -

1) Deion Branch - 23% of pass completions, 24% of receiving yards

2) David Givens - 18% of pass completions, 18% of receiving yards

3) Troy Brown - 12% of pass completions, 11% of receiving yards

4) Tim Dwight - 6% of pass completions, 8% of receiving yards

5) Andre Davis - 3% of pass completions, 5% of receiving yards

2006 -

1) Reche Caldwell - 19% of pass completions, 22% of receiving yards

2) Troy Brown - 13% of pass completions, 11% of receiving yards

3) Chad Jackson - 4% of pass completions, 4% of receiving yards

4) Jabar Gaffney - 3.5% of pass completions, 4% of receiving yards

Other) Tight ends and running backs were big players in the offense, being 5/7 top receivers

2007 -

1) Randy Moss - 25% of pass completions, 31% of receiving yards

2) Wes Welker - 28% of pass completions, 24.5% of receiving yards

3) Donte Stallworth - 11.5% of pass completions, 14.5% of receiving yards

4) Jabar Gaffney - 9% of pass completions, 9% of receiving yards

Other) Kevin Faulk and Ben Watson helped out in the receiving game.

2008 - 327 3700

1) Wes Welker - 34% of pass completions, 31.5% of receiving yards

2) Randy Moss - 21% of pass completions, 27% of receiving yards

3) Jabar Gaffney - 11.5% of pass completions, 13% of receiving yards

Other) Running backs helped out on short passes and Watson had minor contributions.

2009 -

1) Wes Welker - 31.5% of pass completions, 30% of receiving yards

2) Randy Moss - 21% of pass completions, 28% of receiving yards

3) Julian Edelman - 9.5% of pass completions, 8% of receiving yards

4) Sam Aiken - 5% of pass completions, 7% of receiving yards

Other) RBs and TEs helped out as usual.

Analysis after the jump!

After looking at those numbers, one can make a general assessment for what it takes for the Patriots to have a successful season:

#1 receiver gets around 23% of pass completions.

#2 receiver gets around 17% of pass completions.

#3 receiver gets around 12% of pass completions.

#4 receiver gets around 8% of pass completions.

Utilizing this distribution, receivers should get around 60% of the passing yards- which works out well with running backs and tight ends getting the remaining 40%. If the #1 receiver gets so many passes in their direction, then other players are unable to help with the offense. When an offense funnels through such a concentrated filter, defenses have a much easier job defending- double team the #1 and bring support on the #2. There are no other players able to take advantages of mismatches and the offense stalls.

A #1 receiver getting slightly above 20% of the completions means that they're still the man, but other players are contributing as well.

A #2 getting slightly below 20% means that they're almost contributing as much as the #1, but are still allowing the ball to be spread.

A #3 with slightly above 10% means they're helping out on offense and that defenses must respect their influence on the offense.

A #4 with slightly under 10% allows the offense to spread the ball even further, opening the field for the top receivers. If the #4 is able and a threat that must be covered, the other receivers will put up better numbers due to less coverage.

Looking at the distribution, I think it is much more important for there to be a #3 receiver who gets 12+% of the passing completions than it is for the #1 and #2 to get 40% combined. The #3 who can reach 12+% will spread the field for his teammates and, if he can catch well, make some plays of his own.

This past season, the Patriots relied much to heavily upon Wes Welker and his ability to shift through the defenses. By using Welker as a safety blanket, no other receiver (except Moss) really had an impact on the offense, forcing the team to become one dimensional. With Moss playing the entire season injured and unable to be explosive, defenses just had to smother Welker (no easy task) in order to stop the offense.

With Welker out with an injury, it is up to Edelman and the rest of the receiving core to step up into their roles and command defensive coverage. If the quartet of Edelman, Holt, Price and Tate can combine for 40% of the teams' receptions, then the Patriots should have their potent offense back. If the offense is directed through Moss and Edelman, look for the Patriots to make another early exit from the playoffs- if they make it that far.

 

Questions:

1) How will the Patriots cope without Welker?

2) Who will emerge as the Patriots' #3?

3) Will the Patriots do a better job of spreading the ball next season?

 

Our current wide receiver core has the potential to be one of the most potent in the league; will everyone get on the same page and bring our offense back to the top of the NFL?

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