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What Does Wes Welker's Early Return Mean for the Patriots' Receivers?

After word broke yesterday that Wes Welker would more than likely be ready for the start of training camp, there's really nothing that can describe the elation that Patriots fans felt. After all, Wes is one of the most important players on the Patriots' roster, and there's no denying what he means to the Patriots both on and off the field. His presence would immediately calm all my fears (well, almost all of them) about the offense (that is, assuming he is close to 100%).

While I don't want to jump the gun on Welker (after all, Karen Guregian reported late last night that the team was still considering putting Welker on the active PUP list to start camp), having Welker back means huge things for the Patriots offense, and it certainly changes the outlook at the wide receiver position.

With Welker back, the Patriots will have him, Randy Moss, Torry Holt, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Sam Aiken, David Patten, Buddy Farnham, Darnell Jenkins, and Matthew Slater at the wide receiver position. Simply put, the team is absolutely stacked there.

While you never want to count anyone out, it appears that Buddy Farnham and Darnell Jenkins are the longest shots to make the roster from this group at the time being. This would leave the Patriots with nine legitimate wide receivers on the roster; all players that could make most rosters in the league.

When you look at Belichick teams of the past, I think you can safely expect six receivers to make the roster. Welker and Moss are the absolute 100% locks. Julian Edelman is close to that. Beyond Edelman, Brandon Tate and Taylor Price are both very young, and with the team having invested 3rd round picks in the pair over the last two years, it seems like they are a safe bet to make the squad.

With all of this said, this means the Patriots have five virtual locks to make the roster at the wide receiver position. And it leaves David Patten, Sam Aiken, Torry Holt, and Matthew Slater to compete for two spots.

From there, I separate Patten/Holt and Aiken/Slater into two separate groups. The first are the savvy veterans, guys who are past their primes but still have something to offer on the field and in the locker room. The latter two are the special teams guys. While they may be able to play wide receiver in a pinch, they aren't the greatest receivers, and make their impact felt on special teams.

Looking at the individual "match-ups" it appears, at this point, that Holt and Aiken would be the clear-cut favorites to win those battles (despite the David Patten fan that I am). After that, it probably comes down to a numbers game. The Patriots have kept up to eight receivers in the past (2008), so it's not inconceivable that they could keep seven. However, with a slew of young players on the defensive side of the ball, one of those spots could be sacrificed if a young receiver (Edelman, Tate or Price) steps up in offensive development (makes Holt expendable) or on special teams (makes Aiken expandable).

Bottom line is this: if Wes Welker's return means that the Patriots must part ways with Torry Holt or Sam Aiken, I doubt many Patriots fans will be complaining.