BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots are preparing themselves for some massive turnover at a few key positions, but wide receiver certainly isn’t one of them.
For however many games he’s allowed to play, Tom Brady will have his full arsenal from 2014 back for the upcoming season, a receiving corps that accounted for 13 of his 33 touchdown passes last year. With so much turnover at running back, this could mean a little more pressure is put on Brady’s pass-catchers for the upcoming campaign.
Here’s a closer look at how the Patriots size up at wide receiver for the 2015 season:
Brandon Gibson (FA), Zach D’Orazio (undrafted rookie FA)
(Let’s just ignore the possibility there may be a different QB throwing passes for a few weeks, at least for now.)
After the New England offense struggled for the first month of the season, they averaged 32 points per game over the final 12 weeks. A lot of that was thanks to the offensive line protecting Brady, but his targets also played a large roll in their success, and it wasn’t just the hulking tight end he has at his disposal.
The receiving corps was very dependable for Brady in 2014, with LaFell leading the way with seven touchdowns. He quickly developed some great chemistry with Brady in his first season in a Patriots uniform, which doesn’t always happen in New England. He had two more touchdowns in the Patriots’ three playoff games, including New England’s first score of Super Bowl XLIX, and was a perfect fit for Brady and the Patriots offense. Things should only get better his second season in the system.
The leader of the pack was Edelman though, who ranked eighth in the NFL with his team-high 92 receptions. Edelman fell short of the career numbers he put up in 2013, but Minitron was still a force during the regular season and playoffs and was Brady’s favorite target throughout. He had 135 targets in the regular season and 37 more in the playoffs, totaling 118 receptions in the 18 games he played. Edelman really brought his A-game during the playoffs, finishing with 26 receptions for 281 yards and a touchdown, and the former college QB showed off his cannon with a 51-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola in the divisional round against the Baltimore Ravens.
The only concern with the 5-foot-10 Edelman is when all those hard hits will finally catch up to him. He took a huge shot in the Super Bowl, toughing it out to finish that game with 109 receiving yards and the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
It was clear he was no longer seeing stars during his Ferris Bueller impression at the victory parade, but at some point Edelman may not bounce back as quickly from those bone-crushing hits he takes throughout a season. With all those targets comes a lot of big hits by much bigger defenders, so limiting those will be a big key for Brady’s favorite target.
When LaFell, Edelman and Rob Gronkowski weren’t hauling in the passes in 2014, Danny Amendola was chipping in with a respectable 27 catches and 200 yards on the season. He put up big numbers in the final seven weeks of the season (including the postseason), grabbing 27 receptions and three touchdowns, with all three of those scores coming in the postseason. Amendola also played a key role on special teams, returning kickoffs and punts.
The Patriots also have a nice wild card on the receiver depth chart with the offseason addition of Brandon Gibson. He put up modest numbers last season in Miami, but is familiar with a Josh McDaniels offense from when the two crossed paths with the St. Louis Rams in 2011. Gibson’s addition gives the Pats a solid veteran to provide depth at the position if Edelman gets hurt.
Rounding out the depth chart at the moment are Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Brian Tyms. Dobson and Boyce are in real danger of losing their jobs if they can’t show something in Training Camp. Dobson has been a huge disappointment since being drafted in the second round in 2013, playing just four games last season, and Boyce has just nine receptions in nine career games since being taken in the fourth round that same year.
Tyms at least did something last season, finishing with five receptions and a touchdown in Week 6 against the Bills. He may have the leg up on Dobson and Boyce entering camp, but will also have to fight for a roster spot.
With the cream of his 2014 receiving crop back for another run in 2015, Tom Brady (or Jimmy Garoppolo or Matt Flynn for a game, or four) should have no worries about the production from that group.