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Patriots Make Big WR Changes

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Patriots rookie receiver Aaron Dobson figures to have a large role in the team's offense in the 2013 season. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images.
Patriots rookie receiver Aaron Dobson figures to have a large role in the team's offense in the 2013 season. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images.

After draft weekend, Patriots coach Bill Belichick acknowledged that the team’s wide receiving corps has undergone a significant change since the end of the 2012 season.

With the exception of Julian Edelman, the Patriots don’t have a single receiver on the depth chart whose name was present last year (although Deion Branch is currently in a limbo phase as an unsigned free agent). The overhaul of any position, as Belichick told the NFL Network, isn’t a new concept for the team. Just a few years ago, the Patriots tore apart and revamped a tight end position that is now widely considered one of the best in the league.

A year later, the team reset the group of running backs, straying away from past veteran acquisitions like Corey Dillon and Sammy Morris, and giving up on first-round selection Laurence Maroney, by drafting Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.

That was just in the last three years, and already the team and its fan base have seen significant improvements in terms of production.

This year, it was the wide receivers' turn. The Patriots allowed Wes Welker to seek options, and he wound up in Denver. Brandon Lloyd was released before he was owed a $3 million roster bonus. The veteran Branch may be back if a roster spot unexpectedly opens up, though his production dropped significantly in 2012.

It’s still very early to tell, but the Patriots would like to think they have found their outside receiving threat in second-round selection Aaron Dobson from Marshall. The 6-3 Dobson didn’t play in a super conference like the SEC, but the stat that still jumps off the evaluation sheet is zero dropped passes in 92 targets during the 2012 campaign. Dobson seems an early favorite for a starting gig on the outside over recent signee Michael Jenkins, but a lot can change in the coming months.

Then there are fellow rookies Josh Boyce (a third-round selection), T.J. Moe and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted free agent signings), who could all realistically end up with, at the least, practice squad contracts. Boyce, from TCU, can play anywhere from outside to the slot, but his speed suggests he’ll compete for an outside job. And at 5-foot-11, he isn’t the shortest receiver the Patriots have given an outside role to (Branch is listed at 5-foot-9).

With the noise the team made in the draft at the position, it’s somewhat easy to forget that the Patriots signed Danny Amendola, Donald Jones and Jenkins to deals earlier in the offseason. Those receivers, with 2012 practice squad players Andre Holmes and Kamar Aiken, present a potentially difficult decision for Belichick and his staff once roster finalizations need to be made.

Outlook: Yes it’s early, but surely there are already favorites to win the job. My prediction is this – Dobson and Jones split wide to either side of Tom Brady, Amendola in the slot (Edelman in sub packages), Boyce in on receiver-heavy passing downs, and Aaron Hernandez playing nearly every possible offensive position available.

Holmes, Aiken, Moe, and Thompkins could possibly see some time barring injuries, but will likely be practice squad players unless an unexpected breakout occurs. Jenkins, in my opinion, will be cut. Recurring knee issues and age are not on his side, although he has managed to put up steady numbers in his career.

Other options: It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both Branch and Lloyd in Patriots uniforms again this season, should a roster spot become available due to injury. Despite his availability, not many teams have shown interest in Lloyd, and Branch is an aging veteran who has only really had success with the Patriots during his career.

But certainly things can shake up over the course of a few months, and there are other free agent options available (Seyi Ajirotutu, Ramses Barden, Josh Cribbs, Devery Henderson, etc.) should the team feel the overhaul process is ongoing. Rest assured, this wide receiving corps will be an entirely different look for Brady in 2013.