Overview: The Patriots' wide receiver position went though a serious overhaul from the beginning to the end of the season in 2010. Disgruntled receiver Randy Moss was traded after the team's week four victory over the Miami Dolphins, and the team re-acquired Deion Branch through trade with the Seattle Seahawks. Of course, some things remained the same, as Wes Welker returned to his normal position in the slot. Second year player Brandon Tate took a lot of the reps as an outside receiver, while Matthew Slater was mostly regulated to practice squad duties. Julian Edelman and Taylor Price showed promise, but neither saw a lot of playing time in 2010.
Randy Moss, #81
Randy Moss had an abbreviated season with the Patriots in 2010. Despite the fact that he caught three touchdowns in his four games with the team, his primary role had become to simply take the top off the defense, as a decoy down the field. While Moss was targeted early in often in the first two weeks of the season, the team had begun the phasing out stage by week four, where Moss went without a catch in a 41-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Following the Miami game, Moss was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a third round pick. He had minimal contributions with them before being waived and landing with the Titans for the remainder of the season. As a positive, he did have the hands-down catch of the year in week two against the Jets, with none other than Darrelle Revis in coverage. 2010 Grade (Patriots): C+ | 2010 Grade (Overall): D
Outlook: Moss is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason, and is very unlikely to re-sign with the Titans. I wouldn't 100% rule out a Moss return to the Patriots, but I'd put those chance at about 1-2%. With the way Moss finished the season, he will likely have to take whatever he can get on the open market, similar to what Terrell Owens has done the last two seasons.
Wes Welker, #83
Coming off a torn ACL suffered in the 2009 regular season finale, Patriots' slot receiver Wes Welker made a pretty miraculous comeback, returning for most of training camp and the entire regular season, when most believed he would miss most if not all of it. While Welker's return was a welcome surprise, he didn't quite produce the results that we're accustomed to seeing from him. He had a Patriots-career low in catches (86), yards (848), and yards per reception (9.9). He did however, have his second best year in terms of touchdowns, snagging seven total, with a very memorable two coming in the season opener against the Bengals. Welker also had a terrific stretch from weeks 10-14, making 36 grabs for 432 yards and four touchdowns as the Patriots went 5-0 and outscored opponents by 108 points. On the season, Welker's failure to match previous production could probably be attributed to his recovery from knee surgery, and having to acclimate to a dramatic shift in the philosophy of the offense when Randy Moss was traded. As for the knee, Welker himself stated that he was never really 100% during the season. 2010 Grade: B
Outlook: Welker will be entering the final year of his contract in 2011, so the Patriots will need to address that situation in the coming months. Welker should be in line for a bounce back year, as players normally don't regain full confidence in their knee until that second year after ACL reconstruction surgery.
Profiles on the rest of the Patriots' receivers after the jump!
Deion Branch, #84
Despite being away from the team for more than four seasons, Deion Branch re-joined the Patriots and it seemed as if he never missed a beat. He caught nine passes for 98 yards in his first game back; a comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens. He never really slowed down, arguably having his most productive year as a Patriot (48 receptions, 706 yards, and five touchdowns in just 11 games). His hands were great (minus the drop against the Jets in the playoffs), his route running and YAC were also top-notch, as he made some highlight reel plays. He clearly doesn't have the explosiveness or downfield speed he once had, but he is still excellent at finding the holes in opposing defenses. When all is said and done, Branch had quite the story book season for the Patriots this year. 2010 Grade: A-
Outlook: Branch re-structured his contract after being dealt back to the Patriots, and is now signed through the 2011 season. That being said, Branch looks like he should be a key player for the team in 2011 once again, although his status with the team could be up in the air after that.
Brandon Tate, #19
Brandon Tate had an up-and-down year in his first healthy season for the Patriots in 2010. While things started off pretty smoothly for Tate (11 catches in first four games), he struggled with his consistency at times for the Patriots. He even dropped one deep ball that should have been an easy reception. Nonetheless, he showed some flashes that he can be the deep receiver that the Patriots need, with long receptions coming against the Steelers, Vikings, Bears, and Dolphins. He also showed that he can be dangerous with the ball in his hands in any situation: carrying the ball 5 times for 62 yards on reverses, and excelling as the Patriots' primary kick return man (two touchdowns in 2010). He also flashed the ability to make some pretty amazing acrobatic catches, with touchdown catches against the Dolphins and Jets coming to mind (as well as an amazing sideline grab against the Bears). 2010 Grade: B-
Outlook: The future is still very bright for Brandon Tate, who is signed through 2012 for the Patriots. Tate looks to be the Patriots primary outside receiver in 2011, and with some more work getting on the same page with Tom Brady in the offseason, could be a very dangerous threat.
Julian Edelman didn't quite have the breakout season that many expected from him in 2010, but that doesn't mean Patriots fans should get down on him quite yet. As former Patriot receiver Troy Brown stressed in an exclusive Pats Pulpit interview (while also acknowledging some of his struggles catching the football), "somewhere down the road he's going to be a real big plus to this football team." People need to be patient with Edelman. In 2010, he pulled in just seven catches for 86 yards, with most of that production coming in the season finale against the Dolphins. Still, we saw him make some nice punt returns this season, including a touchdown. He also did his best to keep the Patriots alive in their divisional playoff loss to the Jets. 2010 Grade: C+
Outlook: I'm expecting big things out of Edelman in 2011. The athleticism he has, and the ability to make defenders miss with the ball in his hands is really something very special. Wes Welker will still be the primary slot receiver next season, but expect Edelman to work into the line-up more often, and for the Patriots to find unique ways to get the ball into his hands. Edelman is currently signed through 2012.
Matt Slater, #18
It's very tough to grade Matt Slater as a receiver. When he does play the position, it's usually as a blocker in goal line situations, or in blowouts. In fact, the only offensive touch of his career came on a reverse in 2009. Still, Slater played his role well in 2010, and was one of the team's best special teams players, coming up with a team-high 16 special teams stops. 2010 Grade: B+
Outlook: Slater is entering the final year of his contract in 2011, and will once again be fighting for a roster spot in a special teams role. Because of his value on special teams, I wouldn't be totally surprised if the Patriots rewarded him with a contract before the season's end.
Taylor Price, #17
Taylor Price, the 89th pick in the third round of the 2010 draft, gets an incomplete game for 2010, almost entirely due to the fact that he spent the first 15 games of the season as a game-day inactive. In his only game against the Miami Dolphins, Price looked very solid, and managed three catches for 41 yards. 2010 Grade: INC
Outlook: Price is a hard worker, with great height/weight/speed and a well-rounded skillset. He could line up at a variety of positions for the Patriots on the football field, from the slot to the outside. Because of all of this, Price could become an integral part of the Patriots receiving corps in 2011 and beyond.
Heading into this offseason, I don't really see the receiver position as a big area of need. While some rumors have the Patriots linked to Chad Ochocinco (or Johnson), including Chad himself, I don't see the Patriots going in that direction. Still, I think the Patriots could use a bigger, more physical option that can beat press coverage and have the ability, not to change the Patriots offensive philosophy, but to "bail out" Tom Brady in games where some of the Patriots smaller receivers are struggling. That player could be Taylor Price. It could be a guy like Aaron Hernandez at the tight end position. Or, it could be a player through the draft such as Alabama's Julio Jones, or Miami's Leonard Hankerson.
OVERALL 2010 POSITION GRADE: B