Yesterday, the New England Patriots added another wide receiver to an already crowded group in signing former Titans veteran Lavelle Hawkins to a two year deal. The move gave the Patriots a grand total of 11 receivers on their active roster, if you include special teamer Matthew Slater. And even with that number, it wouldn’t completely surprise me to see the Patriots bring back a veteran from last year’s roster, be it Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth… or both.
That being said, while it is difficult to ultimately project where each receiver will be playing, here’s my best attempt to break down what the Patriots have at the position by grouping each player by likelihood to make the final roster:
These players, barring something completely unforeseen, are set in stone as locks for the Patriots roster.
Danny Amendola: Amendola figures to be the Patriots’ top option at the position heading into the position. While he does project to the slot, it will be interesting to see how much the Patriots try to work with him as an outside receiver this offseason. He certainly has the size and athleticism to be a factor in that area.
Aaron Dobson: While the rookie 2nd round pick is a lock for a roster spot because of his draft status, the hope is that he can develop into a legitimate number two or three option at the position as a rookie. With the lack of experience this group has, it would be nice to see Dobson contribute immediately at a position where it has been historically difficult for rookies to contribute immediately.
Matthew Slater: Slater won’t contribute as a receiver in 2013, but he is a lock as an ace special teams player.
A Good Bet
If you’re looking at your 53 man roster in early September, you’re more than likely going to see these players listed. And while they likely will be on the roster, they’re not quite guaranteed a spot.
Julian Edelman: Edelman seemed to finally be breaking out in 2012 before a broken foot ended his season prematurely. His emergence as an outside receiver will be key for the Patriots, as that’s an area they sorely lack depth. His versatility should earn him a spot, but if he can’t be relied on to stay healthy, you never know what might happen.
Josh Boyce: Boyce, as a fourth round pick, isn’t granted 1st year “immunity” due to his draft status. If you recall, the Patriots’ axed 2007 fourth round draft pick Kareem Brown as a rookie. Nonetheless, Boyce still looks like a good bet for a roster spot in 2013 with the Patriots looking to develop young talent for the future. If all goes as planned, Boyce could be a contributor as a #4 or #5 receiver as well.
On the Bubble
While it’s difficult to call these players a long shot to make the final roster, they are far from being guaranteed a spot. These players will need to go out an earn a roster spot by outplaying their competition.
Donald Jones: The former Bills receiver was inked to a three year contract this offseason. However, with the deal having little guaranteed money, the Patriots wouldn’t be in a very big hole if he weren’t able to earn a roster spot. With good athleticism and age on his side, it would be nice to see Jones step up and make the roster as an outside receiver.
Michael Jenkins: If Michael Jenkins has one thing on his side, it’s his size. At 6’4” and 214 lbs, he’s the biggest receiver on the Patriots roster. However, he’s below average athletically, and struggles to get separation. If the 6’3” Aaron Dobson can emerge early in camp, keeping a veteran like Jenkins around might not be necessary.
Lavelle Hawkins: Hawkins was signed to a two year deal after spending the first five years of his career with the Titans. He certainly has some upside, and with youth still on his side, he’ll definitely be in competition for a roster spot with Jones and Jenkins.
Longshot with Upside
These players are longshots to make the final roster, but have some developmental upside. They could find a way to sneak on to the final roster, but are more likely to stick to the practice squad.
T.J. Moe: The undrafted rookie out of Missouri is very intriguing. He’s got good size for a slot receiver, had good production in school, and ran exceptionally in the 3-cone drill and 20 yard shuttle – drills the Patriots value very highly in the pre-draft process.
Kenbrell Thompkins: Like Moe, Thompkins is an undrafted rookie who is intriguing. He’s got an eye opening H/W/S combination who averaged 15.9 YPC in his senior season at Cincinnati.
Camp Bodies / Longshots
These players are long shots to make the final roster, but are certainly practice squad candidates and could still have some developmental upside.
Andre Holmes: Holmes is someone I had my eye on for the Patriots late in the 2011 draft as a developmental H/W/S prospect. He played in seven games for the Cowboys last year, and made two receptions. He’s an intriguing name to watch in camp, but is certainly a longshot for a roster spot.
Kamar Aiken: The Central Florida product has good size at 6’2” and 213 lbs, has good straight line speed, and has played in three games in two NFL seasons. He was promoted to the active roster by the Patriots and played three snaps in one game, but is still considered a long shot for the roster in 2013. Aiken still has practice squad eligibility.
Receiver Depth Chart Prediction:
While there will certainly be some tough cuts at this position, I currently have the Patriots keeping five true receivers (six if you include Slater):1. Danny Amendola
2. Aaron Dobson
3. Julian Edelman
4. Donald Jones
5. Josh Boyce
6. Matt Slater
As I see it, the odds are pretty good that Josh Boyce makes the 53. The question is, where will he land on the depth chart? I think you could argue that Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, and Lavelle Hawkins are all in competition for one spot. However, considering that Aaron Hernandez will likely be splitting out wide on a consistent basis, there might not even be a spot available for a fifth receiver. That 5th receiver will become even more expendable if Aaron Dobson and/or Josh Boyce show that they are ready to contribute immediately.