"Band-Aid" Receivers Look To Help New England's Offense
The Patriots have a reputation of having a sophisticated draft strategy. They have a tendency of bouncing around the draft board by making several trades during draft day. After trading out of the first round in two of three drafts from 2009-2011, the Patriots traded up and made two picks in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. This was an option that looks like it will pay off in the long run. They are also known for taking players at unexpected picks. Tavon Wilson, a player not invited to the NFL Combine, was a Patriots second-round draft pick in 2012. This was an experiment that already looks like a failure.
Whether it is savvy maneuvering or simply dancing to the beat of their own drum, the Patriots tend to do things differently than other teams. These last few offseasons have exposed some problems in their drafting abilities. While the issues show in their drafting, the team’s issues at wide receiver has shown in their offseason signings. In the summer of 2013, four of the Pats’ ten out-of-house signees were wide receivers and none bigger than Danny Amendola. So far in 2014, wide receiver Brandon Lafell is one of five out-of-house signees. It was only a few years ago that the Patriots brought in the likes of Brandon Lloyd and Randy Moss, even making a trade for Wes Welker.
The Pats history of attempting to draft and develop wide receivers produced a lengthy list of failed projects. Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price all turned out to be busts. Even Aaron Hernandez, a tight end who spent some time at wide receiver, was productive on the field, but the Patriots failed to scout his off-the-field issues.
At quarterback, defensive tackle, safety, linebacker, and defensive end positions, there are Patriots for life. Deion Branch remains the sole wide receiver on which Head Coach Bill Belichick can hang his hoodie on. But, even Branch departed for Seattle for a time. Now, Julian Edelman may become that guy. He had an invaluable 100-catch season, but he only averaged 10.7 yards per reception, which was tied for 114th in the league. That does not scream number-one receiver. He did, however, rank 18th with 54 1st-down catches, making him an essential piece of the offense. But his lack of big-play ability, means that the team required a more dominant athlete to stretch the field.
The Patriots have continually applied “band-aid” signings each offseason, but in 2013 Belichick got aggressive and drafted two wide receivers (Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce) and signing undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins. Belichick flipped the table and went all in as he tried to redevelop the group of receivers. Perhaps, he was tired of paying free agents more money than he would give to rookies. Perhaps, he noticed this trend and realized he needed to get more aggressive.
If Belichick wants to end the Patriots’ cycle of offseason signings, any combination of the aforementioned second-year receivers must take a huge step forward in 2014. In their rookie seasons, each of them showed promise but they also showed their inexperience. The trio managed 78 catches on 163 targets for 1,106 yards and eight TDs. This group could potentially be a continuation of New England’s wide receiver problem—or the solution.