Perhaps one of the trades that flew under the radar this year is when the Patriots traded a 5th round pick to the Texans for Keshawn Martin. Martin wasn't a player who the Texans had plans for despite having strong athletic numbers and a solid career for a top college program in Michigan State. Like Julian Edelman, Martin profiles as a Z receiver due to his strong combination of speed and agility to go with a similar size. Martin has been battling a hamstring injury since he laid out to catch a Brady deep pass against the Colts in Week 6. There's no reason to move Amendola from the slot role to the Z role right now if Martin is able to play because that affects two positions instead of one. If they are going for a 2-for-1 position change, they might as well incorporate Aaron Dobson at the X and Brandon LaFell at the Z instead.
Martin has caught 6 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown this season on 7 targets. Here's a bit of what Tom Brady will be working with should they opt for the 1-for-1 replacement option.
Play #1: Martin Crossing Route for 13
The Patriots love to run play action on their opponents. They are in 12 personnel with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield, which usually means run, right? They motion the 2nd TE in and at the start of the snap, it looks directly like a run play until Brady takes back the football. The trick to a good play action fake is for the QB and the blockers to sell it, which they do a terrific job at. The linebackers get sucked up filling in lanes while Martin slips into the void they left on a crossing route. The corner shaded over him quickly bails, which means there is no one within 10 yards of Martin when the pass is coming his way. Martin catches it at the 25 yard line then turns upfield and doesn't get tackled until he reaches the 33 yard line.
Play #2: Martin 7-Yard Stop Route
On the opening play of the second half against the Jaguars, Brady was guessing the Jaguars would play some sort of basic coverage. The Jaguars are a zone based team which models after their head coach, Gus Bradley, who was Seattle's defensive coordinator before getting the job in Jacksonville. The Jaguars were playing Cover 4, or a quarters coverage of the field. The Patriots had their two outside guys run 5-yard hitches while the inside receivers ran down the field. Davon House initially gives Martin a 7.5-yard cushion at the snap, which Martin quickly eats up. Martin then stops at the 27 yard line and turns for the football. With Brady's first read (Gronk) blanketed by the safety, he then turned to his outside receiver. When Brady finds Martin, the corner is 5 yards off the receiver. Easy completion for 7 yards. The stop route seems to be a staple in the New England offense, because I saw this with Aaron Dobson against the Bills.
Play #3: Martin TD Catch on Scramble Drill
This play allowed for the Patriots to put away the Jaguars in the second half. On a 2nd and 8, Brady had a 4 WR set out of 12 personnel with James White in the backfield in a block and release. The Jaguars rushed 4 and dropped 7 into coverage. On the play, Amendola gets wide open almost immediately on his seam route. For some reason, Brady started dancing around in the pocket and was looking right at Julian Edelman as his first read. By the time he was able to look back to the left, House had already closed the window to Amendola, leaving no one open and potentially a missed opportunity here.
Realizing the play was broken, Brady looked to escape the pocket and buy time for one of his receivers to uncover. Martin breaks off the in-cut and proceeds to turn outside. The underneath defender winds up falling down trying to change direction, and that's all it takes for someone to get open. Martin gets outside of the coverage and Brady finds him with no one in front of him to the end zone. Even though Martin was relatively new to the team, that play was an exhibition of good situational football.
Play #4: Martin Bomb for 39
This winds up being Martin's last meaningful play with the Patriots and where he injured his hamstring. Brady's first read is to his right, where Rob Gronkowski and Martin are lined up. Edelman is running a shallow cross and Michael Williams is running a deep cross from the TE spot. At the top of his stem, Gronk bumps into safety Michael Adams and subtly pushes him with the right arm and Adams falls down. That puts the left corner, Greg Toler, in a tight bind. Defend the out to Gronkowski or defend the go to Martin? He winds up choosing the former and reacts up to an open Gronkowski, which leaves the space for Brady to find Martin deep. Brady winds up throwing the ball towards the sideline, where Martin has to make a diving catch, to keep the single-high safety from making a play on the ball. We know Brady will not take unnecessary risks if he doesn't have to. The play winds up getting 39 yards, and hopefully we see Martin make more plays like that.
It should be interesting to see how the Patriots replace Edelman over the next 6 or 7 games. Do they opt for a 1-for-1 swap with Keshawn Martin, who is both fast and quick yet not as shifty, or do they incorporate Dobson into the game plan more. If they opt for the former, that essentially gives Martin a 6-game audition for the Patriots and 31 other NFL teams this year. Martin does have the athletic measurables for a Z receiver, but the question is whether he puts it together in New England this year.