Brandon Lloyd of the St. Louis Rams
Over the course of last season, the New England Patriots defense constantly allowed the Curtis Painters and Rex Grossmans of the league to look like Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The Pats ranked 31st in the league in passing yards allowed. The secondary will certainly be a major area of concern during this offseason.
At first glance, most of the Patriots' problems occur on the defensive side of the ball. However, when you take a look at the wide receiver depth chart, what you see may surprise you. Last year, Wes Welker was the clear No. 1 receiver, Deion Branch was a decent second option, but who was left? Chad Ochocinco? Julian Edelman? Taylor Price?
Wide receiver turns out to be a real need for the Patriots. The Pats are in a good position to make some moves to help that problem. They have an abundance of draft picks in April, and they have quite a bit of cap space.
Here is a three-step plan to fix the problem at wide receiver.
Wes Welker led the league in receptions last year (122) and had the second most receiving yards (1,569)—he also tacked on nine touchdowns. Welker has been the most productive receiver for the Patriots in the past decade, even though he has only been with the team for five seasons.
Over those five years, Welker recorded 554 catches for 6,105 yards. He is an unrestricted free agent this year. Both sides have shown a mutual desire to stay together, but they can't seem to agree on a contract extension. The franchise tag deadline is on Monday, March 5th, so the Patriots will likely tag him if they cannot meet each other halfway.
The Bottom Line: It is unlikely that the Pats lose Welker, but re-signing him must be their top priority.
Deion Branch played with the Patriots during their Super Bowl runs in the early 2000s, but went to the Seahawks soon after. Last year, he came back to the team and made a significant impact.
This year, he recorded 51 catches for 702 yards, along with five touchdowns. Branch is 32-years-old, but he still has a little more left in the tank. He was paid about $5.5 million in 2010, which was part of his contract with Seattle. He won't be paid anything close to that with any team.
The Bottom Line: Branch should be re-signed, as he can still produce on the field, and he is a good locker room presence.
This year's wide receiver free-agent class is extraordinarily deep and talented. Big names like Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, Stevie Johnson and Marques Colston are all free agents.
Brandon Lloyd, another superstar, will be hitting the open market. Lloyd caught 70 balls for 966 yards and five touchdowns. Lloyd put up decent numbers despite being the only legitimate receiver in St. Louis.
In 2010, Lloyd put up 1,448 yards on 77 receptions with 11 touchdowns. Lloyd is a good deep threat and would fit in the Patriots' system.
The chances of Lloyd coming to New England are actually very high. The Rams will not give Lloyd the franchise tag, so he will most likely enter free agency. In addition, his coach in Denver and offensive coordinator in St. Louis, Josh McDaniels, is taking a spot on the Patriots as the offensive coordinator.
Lloyd has enjoyed a lot of success with McDaniels as his coach. Lloyd had this to say on the idea of coming to New England (courtesy of ESPN.com):
"Yes, I find that very interesting," Lloyd said. "I would like to entertain that and see where that goes. There is no bones about that. I've been very successful in Josh McDaniels' offense. I really admire Tom Brady. I admire that organization and how they run things over there. I'd definitely be interested in hearing how I could possibly fit into that equation."
Bottom Line: Of all the teams who are pursuing Lloyd, the Pats are probably the most likely to land him.
This year, just as in years past, the Patriots have a boatload of picks in the NFL Draft. They have two first-round picks, two second-round picks and one each in the third and fourth round. The first few picks will likely be used on defensive players or will be traded away.
Marvin McNutt out of Iowa is projected to be selected in the third or fourth round. McNutt broke just about every receiving record at Iowa, including most yards in a single season, most career touchdowns and most career receiving yards.
He put up gaudy numbers this year, with 1,315 yards and 15 touchdowns on 82 receptions in 12 games. McNutt has very good size at 6'2" inches, 216 pounds. He has large hands and uses his body well to get open.
He has deceptive speed, but scouts were not able to see that, as he did not participate in drills at the combine. McNutt's football IQ is quite high, as he played quarterback and wide receiver. He understands the offense from many different points of view. He is a solid player overall and would contribute to the team.
Bottom Line: If McNutt is available when the Patriots select in the third or fourth round, New England should snatch him.