I wasn't a fan of Aaron Dobson. I thought he was extremely hyped coming out of Marshall and the false promotion by the draftniks and media folk of his dropless college career made me put him under a serious microscope.
Yes, Dobson is a ginormous specimen. Yes, Dobson has elite speed. Yes, all of his physicals are off the chart.
He didn't grow his production while at Marshall. After a 44 catch, 689 yard, 5 touchdown sophomore year, he had a 49 catch, 668 yard, 12 touchdown junior year. He followed that up with a 57 reception, 679 yard, 3 touchdown senior year. He fell from 24.1% of the offense's receiving yards to 15.5% as a senior. He went from having some of the best upside in college football to being the third leading receiver on his Conference USA team. He dinged up his hip and his knee during the season.
He was touted as a borderline first round pick, but a hamstring injury forced him out of the Combine. It seemed as if he was built off of plenty of hype because of his weekly circus catches- followed by little fanfare for the rest of the game.
And then the Patriots selected him in the second round in this year's draft and I groaned. They had traded out of the spot where Cordarelle Patterson, considered one of the best weapons in the draft, went to Minnesota. Their trade down left them out of position to grab a physical freak in Justin Hunter or a polished receiver in Robert Woods. They bypassed first round talent in Keenan Allen and the next best versatile weapon in the draft Markus Wheaton.
They took Marshall Wide Receiver Aaron Dobson at 59th overall.
I didn't even try to hide my disappointment in this pick. And keep in mind that at this point, Aaron Hernandez was still a Patriot, Rob Gronkowski was looking at a minor infection on his forearm and not a full-blown back surgery, and the Patriots brought in wide receiver Donald Jones, who destroyed the Patriots the year prior, in a Wes Welker-esque power impact play. And Danny Amendola hadn't had a chance to hurt himself yet.
So my disappointment had nothing to do with a potential impact to Tom Brady's chances; Brady had just a good a chance as before. My disappointment lay with the pick and the pick alone.
When undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins ran circles around Dobson, who struggled at first to pick up the offense, I know I wasn't the only one who thought, "Oh boy. Chad Jackson, here we come. Or Taylor Price. Number and everything."
And when Dobson wasn't given chances to play with Brady in the preseason, and didn't make much of his chances, I resigned myself to the fact that Dobson wasn't going to have a great year. I even tried to temper everyone's expectations. 40 Receptions, 550 yards, and 3 touchdowns will be a good year, everyone, I swear!
You also know that when Dobson was sidelined for the first week because of a hamstring issue, I was in full on "sell" mode. Shane Vereen and Zach Sudfeld, my friends, they'll take this team to the promised land!
I brought my microscope back out for Week 2 of the season, and Dobson's opening night. After taking advantage of blown coverage that even Rex Ryan could score a touchdown on, Dobson saw 9 more passes for 2 receptions and 17 yards. Three drops. Two plays where he was just completely lost. He didn't fight for jump balls that he was drafted to jump for. And the sky fell down. He let a beautiful throw that could have, would have, and should have gone for a touchdown (although in reality, if he had caught that he would have fallen on his face for a less majestic, yet entirely productive first down grab).
Where could he go from there? Dobson was just going to be another one of those #17s that have fallen by the wayside.
Dobson came out in Week 3 against Tampa Bay on a mission. This time, he corralled his 10 attempts for 7 receptions. The yards weren't there- just 52 of them, and no touchdowns this time- but they'll come later. What's important is that Dobson was pulling the passes down that were coming his way.
Dobson rebounded from a rough outing which, by the way, happened to be his first professional football game. He learned from his first game in the NFL, the first time he wasn't playing against the talent in Conference USA. He was fighting for jump balls, he was running an expanded route tree, and he showed that he was growing as a player. A week after getting open, and doing nothing, Dobson became one of Brady's more reliable targets.
And it's just his second game.
So I'm changing my tunes. I'm all in on Dobson. I'm excited to see what he can add to this offense and what he can help do. Just watching him on the field, he provides a skill set that the Patriots have not had in a long time. He can go deep and get open. He can run a crossing pattern and get open. He can go for a jump ball and get open. He can block, he can be a decoy, and he can keep improving. Brady's going to have fun watching Dobson develop.
Dobson has the physical make-up of a #1 receiver. He has the size, the speed, and he's growing into that strength. And about tempering everyone's expectations? Well how about Dobson being on pace for 75 receptions, 810 yards, and 7-8 touchdowns. Small sample size, but who cares? If anywhere, Dobson's going to go up.
Next week presents a good challenge against the Falcons because it's going to be a shootout (note: now that I've said that, it's going to be a dogfight), and Dobson's going to have plenty of opportunities to make things happen. Get him the ball and he's going to keep making people believers.
The Patriots have a rising star that they've just added to their arsenal. Let's see how bright he can become.