Wide receiver Brandon LaFell had been a total whiff. The Patriots lost out to the Denver Broncos on the bidding war for Emmanuel Sanders, who collected 14 receptions for 185 yards over the first two games of the season. Over that time frame, LaFell collected zero receptions for zero yards and couldn't even beat out Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson.
In week 3, Sanders collected a monster 11 receptions for 149 yards. LaFell managed to crack the lineup and picked up four receptions for 46 yards.
From that point on, LaFell clicked and he became a major point of the Patriots offense. While Sanders was the number two target on the Broncos with 141 targets (Julian Edelman led the Patriots in targets with 134), LaFell still produced as the number three receiver for New England.
After week 4, Sanders snagged 76 receptions for 1070 yards and 9 touchdowns. LaFell picked up 70 receptions for 907 yards and 7 touchdowns. A difference of 6 receptions, 163 yards, and 2 touchdowns from an explosive offense's #2 receiver? Not too shabby.
No one can be upset with the result of the 2014 season as LaFell was an integral member of the Super Bowl Champion Patriots. Head coach Bill Belichick said that he "loves coaching [LaFell]," specifically highlighting LaFell's hustle to block downfield. On the other hand, Sanders could definitely take some notes on how to block.
LaFell will be entering his second season with the Patriots and should hopefully pick up where he left off. He's spent the Spring in a walking boot in order to help the foot injury that he suffered in week 17 against the Bills, but he shouldn't be too far behind as he's been catching passes from Tom Brady all offseason.
If we prorate LaFell's production from week 4 through week 17 (from when he picked up the offense, through his foot injury) over a full season, the receiver set an 86 reception, 1116 yard, and 9 touchdown pace.
The question is whether LaFell will surpass, match, or fall short of these numbers in 2015.
There's a very fair argument for every outcome. Rob Gronkowski could be even better in his second season back from injury, while Scott Chandler could siphon away from red zone production. Julian Edelman still has plenty of room to grow as he is clearly Brady's favorite target, and someone has to take production away from Shane Vereen.
Maybe Gronkowski's return to form and Chandler's presence will draw even more attention away from LaFell on the sidelines, giving him more room to run. Maybe he will continue to develop in the offense and last season was just a taste.
How do you think LaFell will perform next season?