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New England Patriots Camp Battle #8: 4th WR

Who will emerge as the team's number four wide receiver?

Will Aaron Dobson be able to secure a roster spot or will he drop it like he did with this football?
Will Aaron Dobson be able to secure a roster spot or will he drop it like he did with this football?
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

This is a position that is probably not necessary if the team is at full strength. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and a RB are almost guaranteed to be on the field for any snap when healthy. That leaves a rotation of Danny Amendola (3rd WR), James Develin (FB), Scott Chandler (2nd TE), and a 6th OL for the 5th eligible receiver spot. So that doesn't leave much room for a 4th WR on the field unless injuries happen, putting that spot on the roster as more of an insurance policy (Amendola is Edelman's insurance policy as we found out at the end of last season). The thing about insurance is it's better to have it and not need it as opposed to needing it and not having it.

Classifying the receivers on the roster, I'm going between flankers (behind LOS) and split ends (At LOS). For the split end spot we have LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Brian Tyms. As stated earlier, LaFell is a big cog to the offense and will be seeing the majority of the snaps there when healthy. Dobson (2013) and Tyms (handful of plays in 2014) both have seen time as the split end receiver with varying degrees of successes and failures. The receivers that classify as flankers are Edelman, Amendola, Josh Boyce, and Brandon Gibson. Boyce has been on the team for two seasons, the first as an active player and the second on the practice squad. Gibson has bounced around multiple offenses and played under Josh McDaniels at St. Louis (2011) and Brian Daboll in Miami (2013). So he does have some experience in a similar style of offense.

In terms of injuries, I believe LaFell going down would be more difficult to replace than Edelman (unless Amendola is down too). Gronk can play the split end position for a handful of plays, but not full time because that takes away from his ability to play the tight end role. So I'm leaning towards a split end type receiver over a flanker slot guy.

Contestants: Aaron Dobson, Brian Tyms, Brandon Gibson, Josh Boyce

It should be interesting to see how Dobson rebounds. He showed flashes as a rookie in 2013, both good and bad, and was primed for a potential break through season for the team before foot surgery pretty much ruined his offseason (he was trying to rehab it and it didn't improve, a potential mistake in hindsight). Instead, LaFell ended up taking the job and had an excellent first year in the system (and primed for a breakout 2015 campaign). So chalk up 2014 as a lost year for him. Dobson is going to have to prove himself on the field this camp, because Belichick doesn't have much patience for players that don't produce. The problem for Dobson is that while he has more potential as a receiver than the other guys on the list, he doesn't contribute on special teams in any capacity. That doesn't help him. At the same time, I don't think there are any questions about his work ethic and ability to understand the playbook (he basically taught LaFell how it works).

Tyms was a guy discarded by the Cleveland Browns and turned heads in training camp and preseason last year. A 4-game PED suspension ironically helped his chances of making the roster, which is where he stuck on for the rest of the season as a bottom of the roster guy. His lone and meaningful contribution of the 2014 season came here, when he beat three defenders for a touchdown (ran past two and boxed out a 3rd at the point of the catch) on a play that brought flashbacks of 2007 and Randy Moss (and copying his TD celebration). Tyms has seen time as a gunner on special teams (albeit not very good at it right now). It's unclear if he'll see any action in that role since I think Darryl Roberts is more likely to get that role (if he makes the roster). For Tyms, he's worked his butt off at every stop from high school to the NFL so I don't think it will be any different this year.

Gibson has been used as a slot and a flanker before in his tenure at St. Louis and Miami and has experience under McDaniels and Daboll and has had a decent amount of success. That means he's not completely in the dark for the type of route tree the Patriots run and the subtle intricacies of them. Gibson was phased out of the Dolphins offense and relegated to a 4th WR role last year due to the emergence of Jarvis Landry (who was on my list of WRs for the 2014 draft). In addition, he's just under 2 years removed from an ACL tear. With the limited number of reps available in training camp, Gibson is going to have to be quick to garner attention or he'll get lost in the shuffle. In that case, he's probably latching onto another team later in the year. One last interesting tidbit is that Gibson was born on the same day as Devin McCourty, I guess he should change his Twitter handle to @McCourtyTriplets and give Brandon the password and permission to use the account (just kidding, folks).

The last receiver in the camp battle is Boyce. Boyce has the best H-W-S measurables of the four players in the mix, but hasn't been able to gain any traction on the team. Those measurables are probably the only thing keeping him on the roster for the time being, but those won't be good enough to make the 53-man roster if he doesn't turn those measurables in yards, first downs, and touchdowns. Boyce has the makings for an excellent flanker/slot guy with 4.38 speed, 6.80 3-cone, 4.06 shuttle, and this ridiculous juke move. The problem for him is that he has issues adjusting his routes against certain coverages. While Amendola is ahead of him, there's no guarantee that Danny makes the roster even though I'd put his chances above 75%. Like Dobson, this is Boyce's last shot to get a role in the offense because there have been more talented WR than him that have busted at the NFL level.

Projected winner: Aaron Dobson

Dobson gets the edge over Tyms partly due to the fact he's more talented as a receiver. That doesn't guarantee anything, what happens on the field will be the deciding factor. For Dobson, he can't be any more motivated to succeed. After tasting a small bit of success in 2013 and then struggle following foot surgery before the team shut him down halfway through, he has to be burning to get back on the field and compete. Health will definitely be a major factor in the decision process, because an injury can change the entire complexion of the roster and the number of spots allotted to the WR position. Early practice reps in camp may be the deciding factor into who gets first shot in the preseason games, and that alone could be the difference in who ultimately wins a roster spot in 2015. Right now, I have the Patriots carrying 4 WR spots (I consider Slater as a STer, so he gets lumped with Cardona, Allen, and Gost).