We all saw it as it happened and we all had the same exact thought. I guarantee it. He ran, he missed, he fell, and he came up limping.
I'm pretty sure the time for Aaron Dobson is done.
I would absolutely love for him to prove me wrong- and I was driving the Dobson train during the preseason- but it looks like his career has gone completely off the rails. Dobson had earned playing time in his first game of action in what seems like forever, after getting tagged as a practice player of the week and he was already playing with little to zero leeway.
He hurt himself on his fourth snap and ended his return back where he started the season: injured and on the sidelines.
How did this happen? After a slow start to his rookie season, with more drops than should ever be acceptable, Dobson seemed to emerge alongside the return of Rob Gronkowski. He provided a deep threat on the outside and he strung together five consecutive quality performances, from Week 6 to Week 11, averaging 4.4 catches and 65 yards per game.
Then he hurt his foot against the Broncos. And then he hurt it again against the Bills. And then he had foot surgery in March, that was supposed to heal in four-to-six months, but leaked into the football season. He flashed in his singular preseason game, but disappeared when the wins mattered. He didn't have his lateral quickness. His burst was gone.
He sat for weeks until his return and then...nothing. He limped off the field.
Dobson is quickly finding himself in discussion with the other highly drafted wide receivers who couldn't cut it with the Patriots. He is alongside Bethel Johnson and Brandon Tate. He's ahead of Chad Jackson and Taylor Price.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots have drafted five wide receivers in the second or third round since they picked Deion Branch in 2002. None have finished their rookie contract. Three were cut after two seasons (Jackson, Tate, Price). Bethel was cut after three. Dobson is about to finish his second season and you can be certain that the Patriots won't hold on any longer than they want.
If there's any candidate to lose their roster spot with the return of Sealver Siliga, it's possible that Dobson will be placed on the injured reserve so no one has to be cut. Brian Tyms can do just as much as Dobson and he hasn't spent his time injured (spending time suspended is a different matter).
Why have the Patriots been so terrible at drafting wide receivers? After seeing young player after young player make big play after big play at the receiver spot, what is the issue? Dobson was drafted to provide an outside threat to the offense, so it only makes sense to compare him to similar players.
There have been 26 receivers selected in the first three rounds over the past two seasons, with 21 selected outside of the top 25 (not really fair to compare to Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans and other players outside of the Patriots draft position). The Patriots wanted a big outside receiver, not a slot receiver or a Z-type movable receiver. There are eleven players that qualify.
DeAndre Hopkins, Justin Hunter, Robert Woods, Aaron Dobson, Terrance Williams, Keenan Allen, Kelvin Benjamin, Davante Adams, Cody Latimer, Allen Robinson, and Donte Moncrief.
These players were drafted between 27th overall (Hopkins) and 90th (Moncrief). Of these players, Dobson is stacking up 10th of 11 in yards per season, ahead of only Denver's rookie Cody Latimer, who only has 9 yards in his rookie campaign.
Of the six sophomores (Hopkins, Allen, Williams, Woods, Hunter, Dobson), Dobson is clearly the furthest behind. Woods and Hunter have been producing in the quarterback purgatories of Buffalo and Tennessee, while Hopkins, Allen, and Williams are all quality #1 or #2 receivers.
The selection of Dobson was alway questionable from a production standpoint; of the eleven comparable receivers over the past two drafts, Dobson was the only one to not average more than 70 yards per game in any season at college. Eight of these eleven had multiple 70+ yards per game season, seven had at least one 100+ yards per game year. Arbitrary marks, sure, but when Dobson was playing in a lesser conference, his inability to produce should have been a red flag.
Dobson is a physical freak when available and there's still time for him to salvage himself on this rookie contract, although it might be an anomaly. There are very few receivers who fall from 500+ yards as a rookie to <300 as a sophomore, if you ignore those who were lost for the sophomore season due to injury. Over the past decade, there were 55 rookie receivers to break 500 receiving yards. Only three fell below 300 yards the subsequent season, without season-ending injury:
In 2004, the Panthers' Keary Colbert notched 754 yards as a rookie, and followed that up with 282 yards as a sophomore. He finished his career with just 593 more yards over four seasons.
In 2007, the Packers' James Jones caught 676 yards, and followed with 274 as a sophomore. He has averaged 655 yards per season over the next six years and is currently still on pace while with the Oakland Raiders.
In 2013, the Ravens' Marlon Brown caught 524 yards and is currently on pace for 176 yards. He's unlikely to break the 300 yard mark.
So Aaron Dobson is making history for all the wrong reasons. He'll be the first receiver in at least the past decade to break 500 yards as a rookie and fall below 100 yards as a sophomore, without tearing an ACL.
Dobson needs to turn a corner if he wants to avoid becoming the fifth early round Patriots receiver to receive an incomplete on his rookie contract. He needs to stay on the field and he needs to find a way to contribute that is more than just dream shots down the field. If he can't find a way onto the field soon, he'll become just another name on a list of missed wide receivers.