The Patriots have a lot of receivers, eleven in all after the recent release of Bryan Anderson. Here's the alphabetical list: Sam Aiken88 WR, Julian Edelman 11 WR , Buddy Farnham13 WR , Torry Holt84 WR , Darnell Jenkins10 WR, Randy Moss81 WR, David Patten86 WR, Taylor Price17 WR, Matthew Slater18 WR, Brandon Tate19 WR, Wes Welker83 WR.
As you scanned that list, you probably made your selection of the 5 or 6 the Pat's would keep, shuffled a guy or so onto special teams and the practice squad, and unceremoniously dumped the rest as camp fodder. That's what the team will do as well, but that's not what these guys are about. Each and every one of them is trying to make the team. Each one is perfecting his craft and trying to show just a little bit more than the next guy so that he can keep his slot. These guys don't want to be counted out.
You have the "sure things" like Moss. When he steps onto the field, he is the best athlete there. Sure he is getting older, but he trains just as hard every year. Has he lost a step? I'd say no. Why? Because you don't stick a safety twenty yards over top of a receiver that has "lost a step". When teams quit playing him like that, then he has lost a step. In double coverage nearly every play, Randy amassed 83 catches (62 for first downs), 1264 yards, and 13 TD's. Oh, and Brady wasn't 100% either. I'd like Moss back next year as well because he makes the team better, but for this year he's our number one. He knows he might not get a chance at a ring next year, so he wants it now.
You have the prototypical underdog that comes from behind and wins the game in Wes Welker. Sure he'll be on the team, but will he start the season? In your mind, did you push Welker to the PUP list? What's important is what's going through Welker's mind. This is not a guy who responds well to commands like, "Sit", and "Stay". Tommy's Golden Retriever is working his can off to be back on the field. I double dog dare you to tell him he can't.
You have the veteran receiver pickup in seven time Pro-Bowler Torry Holt. Don't think Jaguars Torry Holt, think Greatest Show on Turf Torry Holt. That's what he is thinking. He finally has a top shelf QB throwing to him again, and he's eating it up. He's seen every defense known to man, and he knows how to get open. Oh, and that Super Bowl ring he was denied in 2001? He wants it back.
David Patten? He's old. Surely he's not on your list? Is it just me, or does it look like Mr. Patten actually thinks he has a shot at the team? You can't look at the OTA shots without him catching something. Precision routes, quick cuts, and an ESP connection with Brady that they've reestablished. Here's a guy that's earned three Super Bowl rings by being right where Tommy needed him to be. If you are in the hunt for jewelry, Mr. Patten is a good guy to have around.
Julian Edelman made the team last year by effort alone. Switching from QB to WR, he was always at Welker's elbow learning what he could about being a scrappy slot receiver. With a year of film on the guy, he's going to have to refine his game this year. Oh, that's not just my opinion, Torry Holt told that to Edelman. If Edelman can add some smoothness to his repetoire, and learn to catch any piece of crap that comes his way, he'll be a fixture at Foxboro for years to come. He's going to have to raise his game beyond simply, "Welker Jr.". He's going to have to become Edelman, a name of his own. Let's see if he can.
At 6-1 195 with speed to burn, Brandon Tate may be a better athlete than either Welker or Edelman. He has yet to earn a roster spot. With zero NFL receptions, he has 4 kick-off returns on his resume. Mr. Tate has been Mr. Invisible during OTA's. Potential alone won't get him on a roster, he's going to have to show he belongs there. Can the young burner find a niche?
At 6-1 212 with speed to burn, Taylor Price is competing head-to-head with Tate, or he would be if he had been to any of the OTA's. Because of his schools quarter system, he just made it into town. Price did alright with a trained gorilla throwing to him in college, but alright doesn't make it in the NFL. The QB position has been upgraded for Taylor, so now it's time to see if the Price is right for this team. WIth it being all quiet on the Tate front, Price has an excellent shot at a come from behind victory here. If he wants the job, though, he's going to have to earn it.
Sam Aiken stepped up last year with the weak receiving corps. While he wasn't a receiver that struck fear in defenses, he was a body they had to account for. Add in the fact that he is in every special teams formation and calls out coverage, he'll probably make the team as a Special Teams maven (probably Captain again), that can be tossed out on the field in spread formations at need. While he doesn't create mismatches, he may find one as teams go dime and the DB cupboard thins out a bit. As receiver 5 or 6 AND Special Teams Captain, he'll likely find a spot.
Matt Slater comes from NFL Hall of Fame blood (his dad was offensive tackle, Jackie Slater). Matt came in with high expectations. WR, DB, special teams, he could do it all. Well maybe. After 2008, they gave up on Matt as a wide receiver (they don't even make him study the offensive playbook anymore). In 2009, he spent more time returning kick-offs than anything else. With all the guys looking to make the team, will special teams be enough to keep Matt around? I'd say it's fairly safe to say that if Matt makes the roster, it won't be as a receiver.
Buddy Farnham? Welker / Edelman like build. Not particularly fast. Will this be the year of Brady and the Slots? Unless Buddy can bring something unique to the table, it looks like his position has been filled twice over. My thought here is that he is competition for Edelman. Buddy actually PLAYED receiver in college. So now find out which is better, a QB that's had a year in the playbook and some NFL success, or a WR that needs to learn the playbook. To me, it's an outside chance for Buddy, but that's when underdogs shine. How badly do you want it?
Darnell Jenkins? Texans, Browns, Buccaneers, and now Pats. Another slot type build with Edelman speed, yet you have to wonder why he has zero NFL games in two seasons (not even special teams). The Browns and Buccaneers really have five or six receivers better than this guy? Mr. Jenkins, if you have been holding anything back, NOW is the time to bring it. There is definitely a target on your back, and you are going to have to be the smartest, fastest, and best receiver you can be to avoid being a camp casualty. Even if you factor in that you've played DB and been a returner in college, that makes you Matthew Slater without the pedigree. If you need motivation to bring it on the field, then here's some: I'm standing in a long line of people that think you can't cut it in the NFL. Prove me wrong.
No matter how this battle turns out, the Patriots are going to have a better receiving corps than last year. The key here is the raw talent and the competition: hungry older veterans looking for a ring, rookies looking to make a name for themselves, and struggling young veterans looking to finally make their presence felt. With the new box of crayons our defacto O-coordinator has, the potential exists for some beautiful pictures. Let's just hope that he he has the creativity to do it.
Feel free to make your own roster list in the comments.