I think the wide receiver position is under the biggest microscope moving forward. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are both recovering from offseason surgeries and are on the wrong side of 30. The Patriots added Chris Hogan from the division rival Bills in free agency and drafted Malcolm Mitchell in the 4th round. These four players represent the past, present, and future of the wide receiver position and they all have some serious question marks for 2016.
Can Edelman and Amendola heal and become key pieces in the offense? Can Hogan pick up the complex offense? Can Mitchell be the first successful early round receiver draft pick in more than a decade? Which player will you be watching the most during training camp?
All signs point to Amendola and Edelman being 100% and ready to go for the start of the season, and as you mentioned, when healthy they are highly dangerous weapons. A real concern I have with these two, Edelman in particular, is how effective they'll be during the first four weeks of the season. Watch any tape of Edelman and you can see just how much he and Brady are on the same page; they see the same coverages, understand the hot routes, and have worked tirelessly to develop the rapport that makes Edelman so dangerous. Will he have a similar understanding with Garoppolo? Only time will tell.
I also don't know how much time Hogan has had to work with Brady and develop his timing; just ask Chad Johnson, Joey Galloway, and Doug Gabriel what it's like coming into this offense from another system. The hope is that Hogan can pick up the playbook and get his timing down, as that's more important this year than ever. I don't know how much the coaching staff is planning on using Mitchell this season, and feel that this team has enough veterans so that he won't be relied on too heavily, especially given the QB situation - I'd consider a 300 yard, 2 touchdown season a success for the rookie as he learns the ropes.
I noticed you didn't ask a question about Aaron Dobson...is that because you feel confident that he's on his way out? How many receivers, of the 11 currently on the roster, do the Patriots retain?
I don't know if Dobson is on his way out, but I know that he's a long shot to make the squad. Edelman, Amendola, Hogan, Mitchell, and Slater are locks to make the team. I would think that Keshawn Martin has an inside lane of making the team based on the extension he signed in January that included a monster $600,000 signing bonus. Over the past five seasons, the Patriots have generally held Slater (special team star) and five actual wide receivers. If those five are Edelman, Amendola, Hogan, Mitchell, and Martin, I don't know where Dobson fits on the roster.
Personally, I think Dobson's best chance would be if Amendola starts his season on the Physically Unable to Perform list to free up a roster spot. If the Patriots kept a 6th, it would be Dobson, with Chris Harper and Devin Lucien possible practice squad candidates. I don't know where veteran Nate Washington fits into the calculus, either.
You gave your projection for Mitchell, but what's your projection for Hogan this season?
You figure that, on paper at least, the Patriots' biggest receiving threats are Gronk, Edelman, Bennett, Amendola, and Dion Lewis/possibly DJ Foster if he has an amazing preseason (a big if), which leaves Hogan on the outside looking in from a numbers perspective.
I do think that Hogan has a legit shot to be a very solid fourth option, provided that he proves himself over the next few months, and I can't help but look to Brandon Lloyd's tenure in New England in a similar role. Lloyd had 74 catches for 911 yards and 4 TDs in 2012, numbers that would represent a massive success for Hogan in my eyes. I ultimately don't think a 900 yard season is in the cards for him, as there are just too many options at this point, but I don't think that 600-700 yards and 4 or 5 TDs is remotely out of the question.
Hogan could also very much be one of those receivers that thrives in the Patriots system, earns Brady's trust, and becomes a major part of the offense. Of course, he could go the other direction and find himself permanently in the doghouse. All this is to say that you're absolutely right in that the receiver position is one to watch especially closely as training camp gets underway.