Editor's Foreword: We're doing our training camp positional group analysis differently this year. Several of the writers are going to be taking on positional groups as the "positional coach" of that group. In a few weeks, we'll get together and pare down the 90 man roster to the final 53 man roster plus the 8 man practice squad. We'll be looking at roster balance, the ever important special teams, practice squad eligibility, as well as keeping our respective groups viable and deep. When we're done we'll present our final positional rosters detailing where we made our cuts and why.
Status of the position:
We've been hearing all off-season about how the Patriots let Wes Welker slip through their fingers to go and play with PeyPey in the Mile High City. If the loss of a perennial 110+ catch, 1000+ yard elite slot receiver wasn't enough, the Patriots also kicked to the curb a 74 catch, 911 yard second receiver in Brandon Lloyd who represented one of the best one-two punches at wide receiver since Randy Moss was well, Randy Moss. Matthew Slater is still on the roster, but as always for his special teams role instead of his potential as a wide receiver. The oft-injured Julian Edelman returned, still nursing an ankle injury, which provides Brady with one of the few targets carried over from 2012. I won't get into the tight end situation as Marima will have that subject well in hand. Needless to say, Brady seems short of targets...or is he?
The Patriots started the off-season by replacing Welker with Danny Amendola, a fellow Texas Tech alumnus. While Amendola has suffered freak injuries in the recent past, he offers more size, speed, and youth on the outside than the more diminutive Welker. As OTAs developed, reports of Brady's developing chemistry with Amendola were a breath of fresh air, and a step toward replacing some of Welker's lost productivity.
While the Patriots released Brandon Lloyd after failing to restructure his deal, his lack of yards after the catch, or even attempting yards after the catch in some cases eased the loss. Reports also surfaced of potential locker room problems that might indicate releasing Lloyd was addition by subtraction.
The Patriots kicked the tires on former Bills WR, Donald Jones, but released him prior to camp, indicating that there were better options on the roster. In addition, the Patriots picked up veteran wide receiver Michael Jenkins who saw extensive work with Brady during OTA's. "Molasses Mike" may not be a speedy threat on the outside, but at 6 feet 4 inches he's a big target with decent route running ability that can work as a possession receiver on the outside and in the red zone. You can't coach tall.
During the draft, the Patriots double-dipped on the wide receiver position as they have on other positions of need in the recent past. They grabbed the tall, athletic, and speedy pass catcher, Aaron Dobson, in the second round, ultra-fast and agile Josh Boyce in the fourth round. Dobson who hails from Marshall, like Randy Moss, has decent route running, and great body control. He suffered from poor quarterback play especially during his senior year. Boyce, who ran a 4.34 second 40 time at the combine (with a broken toe), has the agility and speed to work either inside or outside in the Patriots offense.
The Patriots picked up two year veteran, Kamar Aiken, and 6 year veteran, Lavelle Hawkins, to add camp competition as well as undrafted free agents (UDFA), Perez Ashford, Mark Harrison (who has the potential to fill Hernadez's role), Quentin Sims, and T.J. Moe (who posted a ridiculous 6.53s 3-cone time at the combine, but was sent to IR for the season) .
Overall, the Patriots have 11 receivers in camp (plus Matthew Slater), and looking at stats, a few things stand out. The first thing is this is no longer the attack of the smurfs. The only receiver who is 5' 10" or below is Julian Edelman, who used to be the tall one. Four are 5' 11". Slater is 6' even. Kenbrell is 6' 1". Aiken is 6' 2". Three receivers are 6' 3", and Jenkins towers above the rest at 6' 4". The average height is just below 6' 1".
The second thing you notice is bulk. Only 4 of the receivers on the list weigh in below 200 lbs, and Mark Harrison weighs a hefty 255, with a 4.37s 40 time to boot. Speaking of speed, three receivers have a sub 4.40s 40 time. Five of them run a 4.50s 40 or less. As far as quickness goes, only 5 receivers have 3 cone drill times above 7.00s, and one of them is Matthew Slater. What this group is missing in chemistry with Brady, it makes up for big time in measurables.
|80||Amendola, Danny||WR||5-11||188||27||4||Texas Tech|
|11||Edelman, Julian||WR||5-10||200||27||5||Kent State|
|10||Jenkins, Michael||WR||6-4||214||31||10||Ohio State|
The Patriots are going to be looking for certain roles, and I'll group these here:
Interior Receivers (not just the slot):
Amendola, Edelman, Boyce, Ashford, Hawkins, Harrison, T.J. Moe (next year)
Sideline and Red-Zone Receivers (size over speed) :
Dobson, Jenkins, Aiken, Harrison. Sims, Thompkins
Deep Threats (speed kills):
Boyce, Dobson, Harrison, Aiken, Thompkins, Slater (in a pinch)
Being on more than one list obviously, is a plus, and most guys project nicely to multiple roles.
We're looking for somewhere around 5 to 7 receivers including Slater who may never see a rep at the position (although he looked decent with his one catch at the Pro Bowl). Now keep in mind, the Pats had Sam Aiken as Special teams ace until he was unseated by Slater, who is All-Pro level at the position. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that one of the rookies could stick as a potential replacement for Slater on special teams down the road.
So with Slater burning a roster spot, we are looking for 4 to 6 guys, and I can only fill four slots for sure now and we'll have to fight over the other two (I'm pushing for an MMA style cage match, but the details haven't been decided) .
The first two slots are relatively easy to fill. The Patriots invested a good bit in Danny Amendola, and out of all of the receivers, he has shown the best chemistry with Tom Brady. Speaking of investments, a second rounder virtually insures a roster spot for Aaron Dobson even if he doesn't have much of an impact his first year. The fourth rounder for Josh Boyce also makes it likely he sticks around, but that is further from a sure thing.
Boyce is just getting on the field and is ahead in that regard of both Mark Harrison and Julian Edelman, who could soon be heading out of Foxboro due to his injury history. As much as I'd like to see Harrison this year, if his broken foot from Pro Day doesn't heal up soon, he'll probably catch Foxboro Flu for the season. Boyce may be a little behind Kenbrell Thompkins, who looked good in OTA's, but with his speed and smarts, he can make up lost ground.
Michael Jenkins also looked good during OTA's when veterans are expected to shine over rookies, but he is far from a sure thing. If Aaron Dobson, Mark Harrison or Quentin Sims look good by comparison, his height may not be enough to save him.
Roster Locks (barring injuries):
Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Matthew Slater
His job to lose:
Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman
Strong showing coming into camp:
Michael Jenkins, Kenbrell Thompkins, Kamar Aiken
Too talented to lose:
Outside looking in:
Perez Ashford, Lavelle Hawkins, Quentin Sims
Make no mistake, this is one of the most open competitions the Patriots have ever had at wide receiver, and the jobs will go to the men that make them their own. Who do you think will end up on the final roster?