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With Patriots training camp set to open on July 26, CBSBostonSports.com will break down the outlook for every position on the roster. Today’s breakdown is on the wide receivers.
Position: Wide Receivers
Major Players: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Matthew Slater
On The Bubble: Julian Edelman, Donte Stallworth, Jeremy Ebert
While Wes Welker’s drop in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLVI remains the indelible memory from that fateful night, the fact is that the Patriots’ issues at wide receiver plagued them all year long. All things considered, it’s incredible, really, that they came one catch away from winning the Super Bowl.
But if that was the bad news for the 2011 season, the good news for the 2012 season is that those problems are history.
Bill Belichick got rid of his Chad Ochocinco, who worked as a human anchor last season in the Patriots’ offense. He also made signing Brandon Lloyd a top priority and jumped at the chance to reunite Jabar Gaffney with Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels the minute the receiver became available.
Position Previews: Cornerbacks
While Lloyd is a player who will need to develop chemistry with Brady, he has succeeded twice before in McDaniels’ offenses, and he put on a show at minicamp. Much like Ochocinco before him, Lloyd expressed tremendous respect and admiration for Brady prior to joining the team. The difference with Lloyd is that he’s still capable of actually working with Brady and being productive.
While the Lloyd signing was the big splash, the addition of Gaffney should prove to be just as significant. He finished last season just 53 yards shy of 1,000, despite his quarterbacks being Rex Grossman and John Beck. I’ll say that again: His quarterbacks were Rex Grossman and John Beck. Gaffney really flourished in McDaniels’ system in 2009 and ’10, averaging 60 catches for 804 yards and two touchdowns in those two years. At 31, he may not be a Pro Bowl-type receiver, but he’s a major upgrade to any receiver not named Welker or Branch from last year’s roster.
And speaking of those two, they’re not too bad themselves. Welker’s coming off a 122-catch, 1,569-yard, nine-touchdown season, and while motivation has never been an issue with him, the fact that he’ll be working with a one-year contract might drive him to be even better this year. With the attention that Lloyd will require from the defense (in addition to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, of course), Welker should be open even more often next season.
As far as Branch goes, he might take a bit of a backseat, but Brady knows how to find him (and despite looking older and slower, he still hauled in 51 passes for 702 yards and five touchdowns last season). He’s still a threat to get behind a defense (see his 61-yard touchdown in the playoffs against Denver and his 63-yard catch against the Eagles as proof) and will remain an integral part of this receiving corps.
The Patriots had one of the best wide receivers in the whole league last year in Wes Welker, but they lacked depth, to the point where Tiquan Underwood became a person that people knew about. The Patriots addressed their thin receiving corps in a big way. And if the season comes down to one pass, Brady now has even more options, and an offense that passed for more than 5,000 yards has gotten significantly better. The rest of the league should be frightened.