This seems like a bold claim to me, but let’s try to reason through it.
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal thinks the New England Patriots have the third best receiver group in the NFL, behind just Arizona and Washington.
“The Patriots have questions on the offensive line,” Rosenthal writes, “but this should be Brady's best supporting cast since at least 2011.”
The 2011 Patriots offense was one of the most dynamic in NFL history and kicked off the wave of multiple tight end sets that we see around the league- and will automatically be compared to the Rob Gronkowski-Martellus Bennett duo in 2016.
“The presence of Rob Gronkowski should silence some of those arguments about Tom Brady not having a great supporting cast through his career (this was true before 2007; less so after that),” Rosenthal explains. “Gronk is so much better than the next best tight end that the Patriots group gets a big boost.
“Julian Edelman also remains almost underrated. At his peak, he gives New England's offense more than Wes Welker. He just isn't nearly as durable and his mind-meld with Tom Brady is not quite as otherworldly. Martellus Bennett gives Brady another great pass catcher at tight end, while Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan will provide depth.”
Gronkowski lives up to his lofty standards as one of the most devastating tight ends after the catch in NFL history (I should note that these rankings also put Hogan as the 2nd worst wide receiver after the catch in 2015).
I have serious difficulty when comparing Edelman to Welker because I see the reasoning for Edelman’s superiority.
Edelman can play inside and outside, while Welker was a pure slot receiver. Edelman came through in the clutch during Super Bowl XLIX, while Welker- fairly or not- will be remembered for letting a possible game-sealing catch slip through his hands. Edelman has averaged 86.7 yards per playoff game since becoming the man in 2013, while Welker averaged 76.2 yards per playoff game from 2007-2012.
But Welker, man. He was supremely durable, playing 93 of a possible 96 regular season games with the Patriots. Edelman’s missed 9 regular season games over the past two seasons. Welker holds the top five single season catch marks in Patriots franchise history. He has three of the top five highest receiving yard seasons in Patriots franchise history. Welker simply produced.
I’m still not sure how the Patriots are going to feature all of these receivers in the offense, with running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount expected to fill one of the positions on the field 100% of the time (Rosenthal did not factor in running backs into his receiver rankings).
I hope that Edelman can return to full strength after suffering his serious foot injury, and I hope that Amendola isn’t limited by his knee injury. I would put a fully healthy Patriots offense against any unit in the league. But I have a hard time trusting the team will remain healthy.
We’ll have to cross our fingers and hope that new strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera will have more success than his predecessor.
But on the flip side, the duo of Gronkowski and Edelman were one of two receiver groups to each post 75+ yards per game through the first nine games of 2015 (Jaguars’ Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson were the other). They stack up to any duo in the league. Factor in the depth with Bennett and Amendola and the Patriots have a stacked receiver group.
What do you think about the Patriots receivers being ranked in the top 3?