Rookie Outlook: Patriots Receivers
Chad Jackson, Taylor Price, Brandon Tate... The list of receivers that the New England Patriots have drafted over the past decade reads like a Who’s Who of draft busts. While Bill Belichick and his staff have been successful at overhauling major portions of their roster (offensive line, linebacker, tight end) in recent drafts, wide receiver sticks out on Belichick’s draft history like Gigli does on Ben Affleck’s movie history.
I hate to use the word “forced” when it comes to the calculating Belichick, but with Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker leaving town and Emmanuel Sanders staying in Pittsburgh, the Patriots were almost forced to address the receiver position through the draft this year. They had a chance to go with arguably the highest-upside receiver in the draft (Cordarrelle Patterson) in the first round, but elected to trade down and take the “quantity over quality” approach. They hoped to minimize their bust potential and potentially finding one (or two) diamonds in the rough with draftees Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, plus the additions of undrafted free agents T.J. Moe and Mark Harrison.
The Patriots have attempted to fill-in the hole (along with 118 receptions and 174 targets) that Welker left at slot receiver by signing Danny Amendola, but there are still 74 receptions and 130 targets that left town with Brandon Lloyd and are currently up for grabs in Foxborough (and potentially more depending on what happens with Rob Gronkowski’s arm and back injuries). While there is a miniscule chance that all four rookie wide receivers break camp on the final roster, there is a very large chance that at least one of those four will help your fantasy team this year (last time I checked, that Tom Brady guy is pretty good). The only question is, which one will it be?
After being selected as the Patriots’ first receiver in the 2013 NFL Draft, Aaron Dobson brings some big expectations to town with him as he attempts to be the first outside receiver (who measures over six feet) to be successful in New England since Randy Moss (coincidentally another Marshall alum). Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but Dobson has the size (6’3”), speed (not elite, but still good), and talent to give the Patriots what they expected (and somewhat received) from Brandon Lloyd last year. After catching 15 touchdowns over his past two seasons at Marshall, Dobson has a good shot at stepping into the X role for Tom Brady and should help bring the Patriots that “take the top off the defense” receiver that they so sorely need to take attention away from Amendola, Hernandez, and Gronkowski in the middle of the field.
While he was selected two rounds lower than Dobson, TCU alum Josh Boyce has a very good chance to make Belichick look like a fourth-round genius, as he did with Aaron Hernandez three years ago. Boyce likely would’ve been selected higher if it weren’t for a foot injury he’s still recovering from, and he should bring a well-rounded element to the Patriots offense. The Patriots value versatility from their wide receivers above anything else, and Boyce brings with him the ability to play inside and outside while also playing with some toughness and speed. If you’re a Patriots fan, you’re hoping that Boyce will carry his collegiate success to the pro game and become a mid-2000’s Deion Branch.
If it wasn’t enough for Patriot fans who were clamoring for more wide receiver help for Brady that Belichick took two wideouts in the draft, he then went and added two promising undrafted free agents in T.J. Moe of Missouri and Mark Harrison of Rutgers. Both face an uphill battle to make the team, but each possess qualities that could fit extremely well within New England’s finely-tuned offense. Painting with a very broad brush here, the 5’11” Moe brings with him a Wes Welker/Danny Amendola slot receiver-type skill set, while the 6’3” Harrison is more of a raw, physical specimen who has the tools to become a special player if he puts it all together. Moe probably has more of a chance to turn into Jeremy Ebert (who the Patriots drafted as a slot receiver in the seventh round last year and subsequently cut) than he does Wes Welker and will very likely end up on the Patriots’ practice squad. Harrison fits the mold of what the Patriots (on paper) need and I think he has a very good shot to make the roster out of training camp. He’s a three-year starter coming out of Greg Schiano’s Rutgers system (we all know how much Belichick loves those Rutgers guys). While I’d be mildly surprised, I wouldn’t be absolutely shocked if he turns out to be the best of the bunch when it comes to the Patriots’ rookie receiving corps this year.
All in all, the Patriots have given themselves more margin for error in adding four rookie receivers. They are never shy when it comes to admitting mistakes and cutting players, so we’ll likely see one or two of these guys on another team’s practice squad (or out of football) come September, but it wouldn’t be a huge upset to see Dobson, Boyce, and Harrison each make the team, while Moe finds his way onto Belichick’s practice squad. As far as fantasy purposes go, Dobson still has the most long-term upside, but I think we’ll see Boyce put up the best fantasy numbers in 2013, as long as he can get healthy and get some reps with Brady under his belt during training camp. Just don’t forget about Harrison.