The Patriots had a rough up and down (mostly down) off-season last year:
So to recap, most of Brady's targets from the previous year were no longer with the team. Instead rookie receivers, who haven't historically done well with the Patriots, number among his top targets along with a newly signed cast of free agents. Top Tight End, Rob Gronkowski, is healing from surgery. Move Tight End Aaron Hernandez is in lock up, and most of the backups they've kicked the tires on have been sent packing. If that wasn't enough, Tebow talk abounds including possibilities of trading Tom Brady. That was all before the IR train started and tested the roster depth to its limits. How the Patriots survived all of the distractions that could derail a season and end up with a 12-4 record in the AFCCG is a tribute to Kraft, Belichick, Brady, and all of the guys that stepped up when others fell.
Still the biggest question heading into the season was, "What would happen when Brady lost all of his targets?" Let's find out. Below we'll look at both his 2012 and closest equivalent 2013 target and see how they did filling in the holes.
In the stats below, rec is receptions, tgt is targets, and the percentage following is the catch rate. YPC is yards per catch, YAC is yards after catch, and ACP is average catch position (YPC - YAC) or the average position relative to the line of scrimmage where Brady targeted him. This is useful for helping to determine roles within the offense.
The most prolific wide receiver for the Patriots over the past several years was Wes Welker, with Brady looking his way more often than any other target:
Wes Welker 2012 Season: 16 games, 118 rec / 175 tgt (67%), 1354 yds, 11.5 YPC, 6.1 YAC, 5.4 ACP, 6 TD, 2 Fum / 1 FumL
This year, Brady decided to target Julian Edelman in his stead:
Julian Edelman 2013 Season: 16 games, 105 rec / 151 tgt (70%), 1056 yds, 10.1 YPC, 4.8 YAC, 5.3 ACP, 6 TD, 0 Fum
The result was almost 300 less yards on 13 less receptions. In general, Julian did a pretty good job, but left some production that needed to be made up.
Brandon Lloyd was brought in last year to be a downfield threat (9.7 ACP).
Brandon Lloyd 2012 Season: 16 games, 74 rec / 130 tgt (57%), 911 yds, 12.3 YPC, 2.6 YAC, 9.7 ACP, 4 TD, 0 Fum
Aaron Dobson 2013 Season: 12 games, 37 rec / 72 tgt (51%), 519 yds, 14.0 YPC, 5.6 YAC, 8.4 ACP, 4 TD, 1 Fum / 0 FumL
Kenbrell Thompkins 2013 Season: 12 games, 32 rec / 70 tgt (46%), 466 yds, 14.6 YPC, 4.5 YAC, 10.1 ACP, 4 TD, 0 Fum
The result was almost 74 more yards on 5 less receptions and 4 more TDs. The dinged up duo more than doubled Lloyd's YAC numbers, which was often a point of contention in Lloyd's short stay here.
Julian Edelman 2012 Season: 9 games, 21 rec / 32 tgt (66%), 235 yds, 11.2 YPC, 6.8 YAC, 4.4 ACP, 3 TD, 1 Fum / 1 FumL
While Jules stayed with the team between seasons, his role greatly expanded, in his stead were the tag team of Amendola (when healthy), and Boyce (when healthy).
Danny Amendola 2013 Season: 11 games, 54 rec / 83 tgt (65%), 633 yds, 11.7 YPC, 5.4 YAC, 6.3 ACP, 2 TD, 0 Fum
2013 Season: 9 games, 9 rec / 19 tgt (47%), 121 yds, 13.4 YPC, 8.9 YAC, 4.5 ACP, 0 TD, 0 Fum
The result was 519 more yards on 33 more catches and 1 less TD. This role became much more important once we lost Hernandez in the flex role.
Deion Branch 2012 Season: 10 games, 16 rec / 29 tgt (55%), 145 yds, 9.1 YPC, 3.0 YAC, 6.1 ACP, 0 TD, 0 Fum
2013 Season: 7 games, 6 rec / 11 tgt (55%), 63 yds, 10.5 YPC, 1.8 YAC, 8.7 ACP, 0 TD, 0 Fum
The result was 82 less yards on 10 less catches. Collie was more prolific per catch, but saw less than half of Branch's opportunities.
Tight End #1:
Rob Gronkowski 2012 Season: 11 games, 55 rec / 80 tgt (69%), 790 yds, 14.4 YPC, 5.7 YAC, 8.7 ACP, 11 TD, 1 Fum / 1 FumL
Rob Gronkowski 2013 Season: 7 games, 39 rec / 66 tgt (59%), 592 yds, 15.2 YPC, 5.4 YAC, 9.8 ACP, 4 TD, 0 Fum
The result of 4 fewer games were 198 less yards on 16 less catches and 7 less TDs (almost 2 per lost game less). Gronks hands were less sure as his catch rate dropped a full 10 percentage points from phenomenal to simply good.
Tight End #2:
Aaron Hernandez 2012 Season: 10 games, 51 rec / 83 tgt (61%), 483 yds, 9.5 YPC, 6.1 YAC, 3.4 ACP, 5 TD, 0 Fum
2013 Season: 13 games, 12 rec / 19 tgt (63%), 136 yds, 11.3 YPC, 6.9 YAC, 4.4 ACP, 4 TD, 0 Fum
The result was 347 less yards on 39 less catches and 1 less TD as those targets were instead moved to the third receiver position.
Tight End #3:
Michael Hoomanawanui 2012 Season: 14 games, 5 rec / 7 tgt (71%), 109 yds, 21.8 YPC, 9.8 YAC, 12 ACP, 1 TD, 0 Fum
2013 Season: 15 games, 2 rec / 3 tgt (67%), 16 yds, 8.0 YPC, 9.0 YAC, -1.0 ACP, 2 TD, 0 Fum
The result was 93 less yards on 3 less catches (Hooman had some great plays last year), but 1 more TD. If Belichick had to do it all over again, would he take a Mulligan?
Running Back #1:
Danny Woodhead 2012 Season: 16 games, 40 rec / 55 tgt (73%), 446 yds, 11.2 YPC, 9.6 YAC, 1.6 ACP, 3 TD, 1 Fum / 0 FumL
2013 Season: 8 games, 47 rec / 69 tgt (68%), 427 yds, 9.1 YPC, 6.5 YAC, 2.6 ACP, 3 TD, 1 Fum / 0 FumL
The result was 19 less yards on 7 more catches. While Vereen wasn't as dynamic after the catch, he filled a huge hole and did it in less than half the games.
Running Back #2:
Shane Vereen 2012 Season: 13 games, 8 rec / 13 tgt (62%), 149 yds, 18.6 YPC, 17.8 YAC, 0.8 ACP, 1 TD, 1 Fum / 1 FumL
2013 Season: 12 games, 21 rec / 29 tgt (72%), 152 yds, 7.2 YPC, 7.8 YAC, -0.6 ACP, 3 TD, 0 Fum
The result was 3 more yards on 13 more catches and 2 more TDs. Vereen was on fire last year with the ball in his hands, and Bolden needed over twice the catches to match production.
- Wes Welker's departure was a non-issue as slot receivers seem to be a fungible commodity in Foxboro. We have enough capable receivers to cover the void even if Edelman leaves.
- When Brandon Lloyd was outed, we actually improved a great deal at the position.
- Deion Branch didn't see a lot of action and his replacement saw even less, as Brady seldom made it that far in his progressions.
- Danny Woodhead wasn't really missed as Vereen matched his production in half as many games.
Tight end troubles:
- Aaron Hernandez's departure left a gaping hole at tight end that was filled by surplus production at the third wide receiver position. We had no one that could do what he did, so they improvised.
- The fall off from the third TE spot is more of a lack of Gronk than anything. Without him on the field, teams have much less to worry about, and can pay more attention to depth tight ends.
- The number one problem was the big man himself. The loss of 200 yards is tough enough to handle, but the 7 TDs we lost were gone for good. The Patriots had a hard time reaching the end zone when Gronk was off the field.
As we head into this off-season, an injured Gronk is our biggest concern and we need to look to clear options in the draft and free agency to improve the tight-end position. While a Gronk replacement is certainly an option, so is replacing the Joker position that was completely missing this year. If the Patriots aren't going to struggle in the red zone, they will need better options and depth at the tight end position.