After adding Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Lloyd early on, the Patriots re-signed Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney, and drafted Jeremy Ebert in the seventh round. Each new, and old, face is added to the group of Matthew Slater, Matt Roark, Julian Edelman, Britt Davis, Chad Ochocinco and the franchise-tagged Wes Welker.
Of the 12 receivers, Welker and Lloyd are locks to make the roster, while Branch, Stallworth and Gaffney have the inside track over the other receivers to make the roster. Matt Roark, Britt Davis and Jeremy Ebert will have to have make major impressions in preseason to have a chance, while Julian Edelman's versatility could see him fighting for a spot on the other side of the ball.
That leaves just one receiver trying to crack the Patriots roster.
Chad Ochocinco was brought over from the Cincinnati Bengals prior to last season in a trade that excited many fans desperate for a receiver to reignite their offense and replace Randy Moss. Anyone who had watched Ochocinco play the previous few years would have known before he even arrived in Foxborough that that was not going to happen.
It's not that people saw Ochocinco failing in New England, it was just simply that he was not the Moss' type of receiver anymore. Ochocinco is a possession receiver and has been for the past few years. He excels at running precise routes and has the strength to fight defenders for the football or absorb hits over the middle.
Ochocinco was never going to be Randy Moss' replacement, as he was, and still is, closer in skill set to Deion Branch.
As Ochocinco struggled to get on the field in his first season with the Patriots, Branch played an important role in the Patriots offense. The 32-year-old had 51 receptions for over 700 yards, as he used his agility and speed to take advantage of mismatches on the outside.
While Branch's numbers were good last year, he wasn't the impact player who could really expose opposing defenses and take this offense to the next level. Branch and Ochocinco are similar in that they both show great shiftiness in small spaces and can beat cornerbacks in single coverage.
However, Ochocinco has one significant advantage over Branch and every other receiver with an opportunity to make the Patriots roster.
Not one of the Patriots receivers has the height to be an instant mismatch for cornerbacks outside of the former Cincinnati Bengal. While Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez are major matchup problems for opposing defenses because of their physicality, none of the Patriots receivers have the height or wingspan to expose corners.
The Patriots' whole offense is based on matchups. After they added Brandon Lloyd, the offense fixed its biggest issue from last year. With Lloyd, teams will find it impossible to cover Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski or Wes Welker without letting Lloyd free in single coverage.
Considering the Patriots will likely spend a lot of time with formations that use two receivers-two tight ends and three receivers-two tight ends, being the third receiver on offense will also be an important role next year.
If Chad Ochocinco can find comfort in the Patriots scheme, he would be the best player to fill that role next year.
Ochocinco has more ability than Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney. All three of those players are good receivers, but not one ever reached the heights that Ochocinco did when he was in his prime. He may not be in his prime anymore, but even last year he showed glimpses of his ability, which make you think that his issues were indeed all with adjusting to a new, more complex scheme.
It has only been two years since Ochocinco had 1,000 yards receiving as a starter for the Bengals. In a straight-up one-on-one situation, he is the most difficult of the Patriots receivers to match up to. With Wes Welker, the team has the perfect small slot receiver. With Brandon Lloyd, they have a speedster who can also run with the ball in his hands. If you add Ochocinco to the mix, that gives them a 6'1" receiver with the ability to snatch the ball out of the air with his wingspan.
The value in that isn't seen too often, but when teams are able to contain the Patriots' tight ends, much like the Steelers did in the regular season and the Giants in the Super Bowl, Tom Brady needs a receiver who can fight off coverage for the football.
If Ochocinco can stop thinking on the field and act comfortably in the scheme (ie: stop worrying about his spot on the field or the depth of each route), then he can be that receiver. He is as good a route-runner as Branch, Gaffney and Stallworth (actually, a lot better), and has just as reliable hands.
With his size, he adds another level of diversity to an already dynamic offense.
Chad Ochocinco is more likely to find comfort in the Patriots scheme than Deion Branch is to become an impact player, Donte Stallworth an all around receiver, Jabar Gaffney a speedster or even Anthony Gonzalez to stay healthy.
With his combination of quickness, size and strength, added to the arsenal of Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, the Patriots offense will be, quite easily, the most balanced offensive attack in the NFL.
He's not Randy Moss, but he never has been, nor does he need to be.
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