The New England Patriots have had a prolific interest in the wideout position this offseason, and that should surprise no one. Just a quick look at the 2011 reception board shows that Deion Branch acted as the deep-ball threat last season.
|All Others (7)||60||749||12.5||
Branch's 13.8 yards per reception were the extent of New England's downfield passing attack, and that one weakness really hurt them. It certainly wasn't an awful performance, especially considering his advanced age, but it was nowhere near the production this team has seen.
Heck, Brandon Tate had a 18.0 average on 24 receptions in 2010, and even Chad Ochocinco managed 18.4 in his limited work.
Yes, it is easier to maintain a higher average with less receptions, but that's not the point here. The 2011 Patriots offense lacked an important aspect which ultimately doomed their run at a fourth championship.
And yes, Gronkowski possessed a better average. Think about that one for a second though, how many broken tackles did Gronk rack up? 13 to be exact, that's a broken tackle on 13.4 percent of his touches. His average was a product of his ability to extend plays, not necessarily act as a deep threat receiver. Gronkowski, for all of his athleticism, only runs a 4.65 40 yard dash.
Nearly every move the team has made on offense this offseason has been in direct response to the issues and ineptitude they experienced last year in the deep passing game.
Getting the Band Back Together
It's been eerily similar to the offseason they had in 2007. I think they've loaded up to an extent in key areas that there may be a chance we could see that type of production once again. Let's take a gander at the reception chart for '07 since New England has brought back so many pieces.
|Kevin Faulk ||47||383||8.1||1|
|All Others (8)||63||671||10.6||10|
The offensive landscape has changed quite a bit since those times. The slot receiver is still priority No. 1, but the safety blanket has shifted from Kevin Faulk out of the backfield to the tight ends downfield. The third receiver has arguably merged with the second tight end position for the Patriots as well.
So who is in the mood for some heavy duty stats?
Let's take a good hard look into the depth New England has compiled at receiver so we can get an idea about what this offense will look like. I've compiled the average data for the Patriots receiving corps since 2007 in an effort to gauge this mixed group of talent and age.
With that said, it would be unfair to simply average the first two seasons of Gronkowski and Hernandez. Their sophomore seasons were exponentially better, so we're rolling with their 2011 stats.
Anthony Gonzalez hasn't gotten onto the field since 2008 so his stats are an average of 2007 and 2008. For purposes of illustrating Edelman's small body of work, his career stats are listed.
Averages Since 2007
|Rob Gronkowski*|| 90 || 1327 || 14.7 || 17
|Aaron Hernandez*||79|| 910 ||11.5||7|
|Brandon Lloyd||60|| 965 ||16.0||6|
|Chad Ochocinco|| 52 || 674 ||13.0||4|
|Julian Edelman*||48|| 479 ||10.0||1|
So again, the above numbers are composed averages of the players body of work since 2007. Exceptions being the players marked with an *.
If any one of these players do better than these projections, it won't be by much in any category. These numbers represent their most recent career average which serve well when projecting a player's overall ceiling.
What to Expect
So with a best-case scenario laid out, what might the final roster end up looking like?
Jabar Gaffney will make the team, that should be a near lock considering his past success in this system and prolific numbers since leaving. His average of 13.5 yards per reception ranks second only to Brandon Lloyd among wideouts.
So, if we're getting into the business of handing out locks, let's go ahead and give out two more to Lloyd and Welker. That leaves about three spots max for five players. It's extremely difficult to project what you're gonna get from the likes of Stallworth or Gonzalez, but they'll both have to show a fair amount to over take the likes of Ochocinco, Branch and Edelman.
I suppose you could make the argument that Edelman makes his impact on special teams and possibly wouldn't count against the receiver depth chart. At that point the preseason becomes an audition. Roster spots and slots in this upcoming offensive showcase will be up for grabs.
I think rookie Jeremy Ebert is headed for practice-squad duties, unless he doesn't end up making the team or finds a niche in the return game.