The Patriots clearly missed receiver Aaron Dobson in the opener against the Dolphins. At 6'3, Dobson offers size that no one else on the roster can provide, and he does it with wheels that can generate fantastic separation.
His absence was due to his missed time during the offseason as he recovered from his foot surgery. Because Dobson only a couple weeks under his belt, Bill Belichick didn't think he was ready to return to the field for full action. Still, the sophomore looked fantastic in the fourth preseason game and should provide an outside element that was missing last week.
The main question to follow is what player sits to make room for Dobson?
It's entirely possible that Dobson's return forces a defensive back to the inactive list, but most of the scuttlebutt around the beat writers lends an expectation that a receiver will be left behind.
The Patriots have five receivers on the roster, not including Matthew Slater who is a pure special teamer. With Dobson sidelined, the remaining four receivers all saw time, and each recorded over five passing targets.
Julian Edelman is a lock, notching six receptions on eight targets for 95 yards. Kenbrell Thompkins saw ten targets, second most on the team, reeling in five for 37 yards. While Edelman is a lock, it's likely that Thompkins activity makes him a safe bet to play.
Behind those two, Brandon LaFell saw six targets and made zero receptions. Danny Amendola recorded five targets, with three receptions and 16 yards, including a half-hearted 2-yard gain on a slip screen.
Important to note? There were zero dropped passes by any of these receivers, accoridng to Pro Football Focus, so that's a positive that can be taken away. Still, performances like LaFell's and Amendola's leave a definite wanting of improved ability on the field.
If a receiver should be left behind, it's important to note the depth chart.
Edelman and Amendola are the smaller slot receivers. LaFell and tight end Tim Wright are the larger slot options. Both Edelman and LaFell feature as the Z receivers, who get moved around the formation. Dobson and Thompkins are the X receivers on the outside.
With the absence of Dobson, Thompkins was the clear outside receiver, but LaFell saw time on the outside late in the fourth. It was a gross misuse of Lafell- he's a player who needs to get the ball in his hand and will pick up YAC- but needed since the Patriots didn't have big and fast outside players.
It also must be noted that when Amendola takes the field, Edelman gets shifted to the outside with Danny taking the slot.
Here is how the scenarios play out:
If Amendola sits, then Edelman has to stay in the slot the entire game, with no clear back-up. Edelman also loses value because he's most dangerous when he is flexed into roles that get him the ball in his hands. With Edelman no longer able to play the Z, the team will have to play LaFell more often, meaning the likely offense would be Dobson on the outside, Edelman in the slot, LaFell as the third receiver, with Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen as the other pieces.
If LaFell sits, then Tim Wright will see a larger role as the big slot. Amendola can man the slot, switching with Wright to provide size, Edelman plays the Z, and Dobson, Gronkowski, and Vereen fill out the rest.
In my opinion, preventing Edelman from roaming the offense would be a major loss for the offense. Sitting Amendola would prevent the Patriots from operating with the most dangerous short-passing game, which will need to be featured heavily.
Still, LaFell offers more special teams value than Amendola, and that value means a lot to Belichick.
In your opinion, if a receiver has to sit to make space for Dobson, which receiver would you put on the bench?