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Position Analysis: Wide Receiver

Reflecting on year one of the Danny Amendola era, as the ostensible replacement for Wes Welker, could not have been what Kraft family, or Coach Belichick, could have hoped for. They could and probably, should have foreseen the injuries, but the lack of confidence in Amendola from TB12 has to be disconcerting.

I assume that the “football people” thought Amendola would come to New England and bathe in the healing waters of Foxboro and stay healthy for an entire season. Predictably, that did not happen. Amendola had a complete tear of a muscle in his groin in the first game and was hampered by it all season. He toughed it out, playing in 12 games, but he was never a difference maker.

His one real breakout game, week 15 at Miami, was telling. Amedola had 10 catches for 131 yards, but he dropped a certain game winner, on a play where he HAD to win a one-on-one battle, on the game’s final drive. After that drop, in the final two regular season games and the two playoff games Amendola was targeted eleven times. He had six catches for 131 yards and no touchdowns. Those are fairly pedestrian numbers for a player making $3.5 million.

Julian Edelman saved the Patriots offense last season. With Gronk coming back late (and leaving early), with Scarface Hernandez enjoying the accommodations provided by the state, and with Wes Welker and his hair plugs catching balls in Denver, the Pats needed a number one option to emerge. Thankfully, Julian Edelman accepted that challenge. The 105 catches and six touchdowns only tell a small part of the story. Edelman was someone that other teams ultimately had to game plan for. While not to the magnitude of game planning for Gronk, Edelman gave opponents fits. He uses the stop-on-a-dime quickness that makes him the BEST punt returner in the league and applied it to precise route running. As smart as he is, Edelman is able to read defenses correctly and get where the ball is going to be. He will end up a bargain at four years and 19 million dollars.

Matt Slater is listed as a receiver- but let’s be honest, he’s a special teams stud. If you want to argue that watch his “technique” breaking back on the ball in the AFC Championship game.

Josh Boyce showed few flashes last season. His highlights from TCU suggest that he would be a perfect slot receiver in the NFL. The problem is the Pats have that position filled and Boyce isn’t always healthy. If he doesn’t do something exciting in the pre-season, look for him to be unemployed (until the Jets sign him for a week and make him a captain).

Aaron Dobson should be this year’s Alshon Jeffery. A big target whose second year far exceeds his first. Dobson’s (37/519 4 TD) rookie numbers are actually better than Jeffrey’s (24/367 3TDs). With a full off-season, Dobson should be the big, downfield threat the Patriots need. The problem is, for some reason Dobson waited until March 10 to have foot surgery. The recovery time is 2-3 months, thus limiting his off-season workout time. With the Vatican-like secrecy the Patriots deploy around injuries, one can only speculate about the delay. Was it swelling? Was it a misdiagnosis from their former head of medicine? Was it a “let’s see how it heals on its own” situation? Something tells me we’ll never find out.

The Kenbrell Tompkins story is a true example of persistence. Early, he persisted in being a bad citizen (being expelled from high school three times and being arrested seven times for, for the most part, drug-related offenses), and then he persisted at jumping from school to school (two community colleges, Tennessee and Oklahoma) before settling at Cincinnati. As a Bearcat, Tompkins was productive, but unspectacular. It appears that the sketchy nature of his past cost him an opportunity to be drafted. The Patriots signed him and from the beginning of camp, he was the best rookie wideout they had. While Tompkins had a tendency to drop routine passes, he did make one of the outstanding plays of the year, the game winning, how did Brady see him and get him the ball, grab against the Saints. The best part of that ply was the fact that New Orleans had already given out the game ball and had huddled into their post-game prayer groups when New England’s mini-miracle happened.

Free Agent the Pats should target – The one they already did – Brandon LaFell: LaFell, whose catch and touchdown totals have gone up every year he’s been in the league, seems primed for a breakout. His 6’2” size makes him a bigger target than the other Pats receivers, with the exception of Dobson (6’3”). A versatile receiver, able to play any of the receiver positions, along with maybe giving a bit of a TE look, LaFell is also a strong blocker. The beauty of the acquisition is the Pats have a guy who is developed and who should be entering his prime. The clock on the QB is ticking too fast to develop guys. I look for Label to have his best year as a pro this fall.

Player they should draft (late): The Patriots have other needs than receiver. These other needs are where their draft picks should go. If they want to take a late flyer on a receiver, they should look at Kevin Norwood, Alabama. Full disclosure: I watch Bama every week (my daughter is going there) and this guy can play. He’s 6’2,” which would give Mr. Brady another bigger target in the red zone. This season he had 38 catches for 568 yards on a team that loves to have a more balanced, run/pass offense than just about any other team in the nation. As a late round, let’s maybe find a guy who can play long enough to earn a pension, this would be the pick.

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