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State of the New England Patriots Nation: Wide Receivers

Randy Moss is a slacker.

West Walter is pretty good, but he can't score.

There is no #3 receiver.

Julian Edelman is a quarterback.

So is Isaiah Stanback.

Sam Aiken can't catch.

Brandon Tate was injured all season.

Joey Galloway. Hah.

I'm mostly kidding. We had two of the top 5 yardage producing receivers in the league (and held #1 and #2 at the same time at one point). We've been trying to develop Edelman into a real player and his potential has seen bright flashes when he hasn't been injured. How did our receivers do this year? What does this mean for our off season in terms of free agency and the draft?

Read to find out.

1. Randy Moss 6-4, 210 lbs. 32 Years Old, 12 Year Veteran

Stats: 83 receptions, 1264 yards, 15.2 Average, 13 TDs, 8 Drops, 8 Interceptions in his Direction, Long of 71 yards

How he did: Randy Moss had to face heavy criticism this year due to an apparent lack of effort. However, he battled a back injury all season and a bad shoulder. All season. And was still the #5 yardage receiver in the league and the #1 TD receiver in the league. While injured. All season. He has another year left on his contract and I expect the Patriots to resign him next season for a couple more years as he transitions from dominant #1 to dominant #2 and helps coach young receivers.

Where he did well:

  1. He had 5 100+ yardage games.
  2. He was #5 in total receiving yards.
  3. He was #1 in total receiving TDs.
  4. He drew attention away from other receivers as he faced double coverage.
  5. Early in the season (prior to injury) we utilized him on slants with great success. Then he got injured.
  6. He has been a positive influence upon the young receivers and has been a wealth of knowledge.

Where he can improve:

  1. 8 of Brady's 13 regular season interceptions were in Moss's direction. That is partly Brady's fault for throwing into bad coverage, but Moss definitely could have stopped a pick or two.
  2. He was injured. Get healthy.
  3. Moss caught 61% of the passes thrown to him. That's not terrible, but if he's going to be our #1 for another year, he needs to raise that to 70%. (Reggie Wayne was at 68%, so was Brandon Marshall).
  4. He was tied for 7th in the league in dropped passes with 8. A lot of big time receivers drop the same amount (Colston, Andre Johnson, Holmes, Marshall all had 7-10), but he needs to catch some of those big drops.

What does this mean?: He hasn't really slowed down, despite the increased defensive attention. His stats (apart from TDs) would have been very similar to 2007, except he had 16 or so fewer receptions. He's still fit to be a #1 receiver for at least another year or two. While he's here, he has to help groom the younger receivers (Tate!) into being his replacement. He will most likely be a #2 (#3 if you call Welker the #2) in a couple years. His injuries at his age are reason for some concern, but he is an All Pro, Pro Bowl, All World receiver. He's got game.

2. Wes Welker 5-9, 185 lbs. 28 Years Old, 6 Year Veteran.

Stats: 123 receptions, 1348 yards, 4 TDs, 6 Dropped Passes, 1 Interception in his direction

How he did: Mr. Reliable is and forever will be the Little Engine That Could. Every team is looking for their own Wes Welker because he moves the chain and gets the ball in a position to where the team can score. He may not be considered the best receiver in the league, but he certainly holds the most utility. If he played the full season, he could have led in yardage and own an NFL record in receptions.

Where he did well:

  1. Led the league in receptions by 16 catches. Oh, and he really only played 13 games. If he played a full season, he would hold the league record in receptions.
  2. #2 in the league in yardage.
  3. #1 Receiver in Yardage After the Catch.
  4. #1 Receiver in Reception % (@ 80.4%)
  5. #3 Receiver in Missed Tackles (@ 13. Shows his elusiveness)
  6. Had 0 penalties called against him.
  7. He was Wes Welker.
  8. 6 100+ yardage games.

Where he can improve:

  1. He can heal for next season. The devastating injury may prevent him from coming back until late next season. Cross our fingers that he can return and soon. His skill comes in being quick, not fast. His knee may effect that.
  2. He can score more? He had only 4 TDs, which is unfortunate for him. His best role is eating yardage between the 20s when CBs have to sit back. When they cover him tight (ie: in the red zone), he can't make quick moves and gain extra yards.

What does this mean?: It depends upon his injury. We have Welker for another two years so there is room for healing. However, as much as we love Welker, depending on when he returns, Edelman has the potential to step up and take Welker's role. As of now, Wes is a one of a kind receiver. Next year, let's see if Edelman can make it two of a kind.

3. Sam Aiken 6-2, 215 lbs. 29 Years of Age, 7 Year Veteran.

Stats: 20 receptions, 326 yards, 2 TDs, 1 Dropped Pass, 2 Interceptions in his direction

How he did: He wasn't supposed to have a big role on our offense, but a lack of Joey Galloway forced him to perform. He is a #4 receiver (at best) and had to play as a #3. He didn't perform, but no one can point the finger at him. He's a special teams ace and, hopefully, next year he can return to what he does best. Special teams.

Where he did well:

  1. He stepped up and did his best in a role he shouldn't have been in.
  2. He had 7 receptions for 90 yards against the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.
  3. He (probably due to his ST experience) was the best blocker on the team. When we ran run plays, he would usually be on the field.

Where he can improve:

  1. He caught only 47.6% of the passes in his direction. That's not very good for a professional player.
  2. He couldn't adjust himself after getting jammed at the line and caused a lot of Brady's passes to go too far.
  3. Go back to Special Teams.

What does this mean?: He had no business being a #3 receiver. However, I commend him for giving his all. He's a great team player and that goes far on this team. It doesn't get him a permanent role on this offense, though. We need to find a suitable #3.

4. Julian Edelman 6-0, 198 lbs. 23 Years of Age, Rookie.

Stats: 37 receptions, 359 yards, 1 TD, 10 Missed Tackles

How he did: Incredibly when called upon. Had two huge games, one at the beginning and one at the end, both when Welker was injured and not playing. He's a bigger version of Welker and it showed. He had less than half the plays and a 3rd of the passes in his direction and still managed to force only 3 fewer missed tackles. That's huge.

Where he did well:

  1. 10 missed tackles. Welker had 13. Edelman has the quickness.
  2. Caught 74% of the passes in his direction.
  3. Stepped up when called upon.

Where he can improve:

  1. Dropped 3 passes.
  2. Stay healthy (dealt with arm injuries the whole season).

What does this mean?: He is definitely capable of replacing Welker if needed. Another year of growing into the position and he will be a scary slot receiver.

5. Isaiah Stanback 6-2, 208 lbs. 25 Years of Age, 3 Year Veteran.

Stats: 3 Receptions for 22 Yards.

How he did: I expect his main purpose on the team was to be an emergency 3rd QB.

Where he did well:

  1. He was a QB playing WR. What were you expecting? Edelman type numbers?

Where he can improve:

  1. 7 passes in his direction. 3 catches. 1 drop. Not a good stat line.

What does this mean?: No one is expecting him to play a large part in next year's offense. I wouldn't be surprised if he even got cut.

6. Brandon Tate 6-1, 195 lbs. 22 Years of Age, Rookie.

Stats: 0 receptions, 0 yards. 4 Kickoff returns, 106 yards.

How he did: He had a good end-around for 11 yards. He also was a bright returner.

Where he did well:

  1. Highest kickoff return average on the team.
  2. Showed effort in getting better and learning the system.

Where he can improve:

  1. Not be injured. Seems like a common trend with receivers on our team!

What does this mean?: No one knows. He can be an immediate contribution to our return game next season and can hopefully step up into the #3 position.

How does this affect our off-season and draft strategy?: Hopefully Moss can heal over the off-season. Welker's injury leaves a gap at the #2 position- a gap that (hopefully) Edelman can fill and make his own. We still have a glaring void at #3 receiver and I hope that Tate can step into that position. I know that I wouldn't trust Tate to start immediately producing, and I'm pretty sure the team doesn't either. Expect at least 1 FA pick up or draft pick. I've been pushing for Jason Avant, Steve Breaston or Lance Moore. I also wouldn't oppose Brandon Marshall, Malcom Floyd or Jerheme Urban.