New England Patriots Top 10 Pass Catchers of the Brady Era

Kyle CormierContributor IIIJune 16, 2012

New England Patriots Top 10 Pass Catchers of the Brady Era

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    Tom Brady has had the opportunity to play with some tremendous talents on his way to five Super Bowls and three world championships.

    There were years like 2006 where he had to do more with less, throwing to nobodies like Reche Caldwell, but for the most part he has had the privilege to play with some special players.

    Here are 10 of Brady's pass catchers that have stood out above the rest.

No. 10: Benjamin Watson

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    There is not going to be a more unpopular player on this list than tight end Benjamin Watson. He never lived up to his first-round status or his freakish ability that he displayed while playing at the University of Georgia.

    Oddly enough, one of his most memorable plays with the Patriots was a tackle. In a 2005 playoff defeat vs. the Denver Broncos he tracked down Champ Bailey with a 100-yard sprint to prevent a touchdown following a Tom Brady interception in the end zone. The hit jarred the ball loose from Bailey and forced the Broncos to run another play to punch it in.

    As a receiver, though, he is grossly underrated by some. Let me be clear, he did drop his share of balls while with the team, but he also made some big ones.

    A lasting memory of Watson will always be his performance in the waning moments of the Patriots 2009 season opener against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots were up against the ropes and Watson hauled in two touchdowns in the final few minutes to prevent an embarrassing loss to open the season.

No. 9: David Patten

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    David Patten is one name that is rarely brought up any more, but he made some big plays in some big games.

    Two of the biggest touchdown receptions in Patriots history were made by Patten in consecutive games. In the 2001 AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, after Tom Brady was knocked out of the game, Patten made an incredible catch in the back of the end zone from former starter Drew Bledsoe to help seal the deal and send the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

    In the Super Bowl, he made an eerily similar catch, this time from Brady, for the Patriots' only offensive touchdown in their Super Bowl XXXVI victory over the Rams.

    Patten also put on one of the greatest performances in team history earlier in the season vs. the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 21. Patten ran for a 29-yard touchdown, reeled in a 91-yard touchdown catch, and hit Troy Brown with a bomb mid-stride for a 60-yard touchdown.

    He became just the sixth player in league history to complete the pass, run, catch touchdown combo in a single game.

    Patten actually tried making a comeback with the team in 2010, before announcing his retirement later the same year during training camp.

No. 8: David Givens

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    David Givens is another David who made some big-time clutch plays for the team during his run in New England. A lot of people may not know that Givens is actually the franchise's all-time leader in playoff touchdowns with seven.

    Givens managed to find the end zone in seven out of eight playoff games he played.

    In the 2002 draft, the Patriots found themselves a bit more than they would have expected in the seventh round with the selection of Givens. Coupled with the selection of Deion Branch earlier in the draft, the Patriots found themselves what would be a key tandem in winning two more Super Bowls.

    What is tragic about Givens is how his career met an unfortunate end soon after his departure for the Tennessee Titans in 2006. His career ended at just 26 years old after a brutal knee injury from which he was never able to recover.

No. 7: Aaron Hernandez

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    Aaron Hernandez is a pick that was scrutinized by some after the 2010 NFL draft because of his reported marijuana use at Florida.

    Two years later, any team that passed on him should be taking a long, hard look at how they do things.

    Hernandez has quickly become one of the most effective pass-catching tight ends in the league just two years into his career. Players like him are becoming prototypes for the position because of the matchup problems they can present opposing defenses.

    If Wes Welker were not in the league, an argument could be made that Hernandez is the best slot receiver in football. Though his bio may say tight end, make no mistake about it, he makes his money as a receiver. So much so that his abilities may be preventing the team from feeling the need to extend a multi-year deal to Welker when they know they can just fall back on Hernandez.

    There is a great chance Hernandez could be further up on this list if someone makes it again in five years. 

No. 6: Deion Branch

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    Deion Branch may be Tom Brady's favorite of all the players listed on here. The two of them have such a good relationship that Brady was visibly affected by Branch's departure in 2006.

    Branch is a player that has twice now been a key cog in the Patriots attack, but the main reason he is on this list is his contributions made during his first go-around with the team.

    Branch may not have been a marquee-type No. 1 receiver, but the chemistry he shared with Brady, paired with his athleticism, made for a nasty combination.

    Look no further than Branch's play in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX to see what he brought to the table back in the day. Branch recorded double-digit receptions in both Super Bowls, and brought home MVP hardware the second time around.

    Branch just may be able to make a play or two more and win a third championship in New England before it is all said and done. 

No. 5: Kevin Faulk

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    If you look up the word "reliable" in the dictionary, you just may find a picture of Kevin Faulk next to it. Faulk, the only running back on this list, made more key catches than can be counted.

    Faulk is the fifth all-time leading receiver of the team, regardless of position. However, it was not just his number of catches that was great, it was what he did with them.

    If it was third-and-9, Faulk would catch a 10-yard pass. third-and-4, he would pick up five. It was like clockwork. It was uncanny ability that likely led to Bill Belichick's widely criticized decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 in 2009 in a loss the Indianapolis Colts, when Faulk was stopped just inches shy.

    Faulk is still itching to join the team for a last campaign, but unfortunately his illustrious career in New England may have met its end.

No. 4: Rob Gronkowski

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    Rob Gronkowski may be No. 1 on this list if he and Tom Brady play together long enough.

    He is the most well-rounded tight end on the planet, and his size and ability make him nearly impossible to cover when healthy.

    His 17 touchdown receptions in just his second season in the league may be tough to live up to again, but if there is a specimen who can manage that, it would be Gronkowski.

    He may be a character off the field, but between the lines, he is as physical a player as you will see with the ball in the open field.

    The only bad thing you can say about him as a player is that he takes too many hits, but that is also what makes him great: his will to fight for extra yards every time.

    Trading up for Gronkowski in the 2010 draft is quickly looking like one of the best moves Bill Belichick has made in his life.

No. 3: Troy Brown

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    "Mr. Patriot" is one of three players who was in serious contention for the No. 1 spot on this list. Three is about as far down as anyone could ever put him.

    He is the team's all-time leader in receptions with 557 (until Wes Welker passes him in Week 1 this season) and he made countless memorable plays with the team during his tenure.

    One disadvantage Brown has is that he played in the Patriot offense before it really opened up into the aerial attack it is today. If he were to play the slot role in today's Patriot offense, his numbers may have been far greater than what they are already.

    Also, half of his career was spent playing primarily with Drew Bledsoe, not that Bledsoe was terrible by any means, but he is obviously not up to the caliber of Tom Brady.

No. 2: Wes Welker

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    Production. That is what is important to the Patriots in their receivers, what do we get out of you. Well, no one in the NFL has had more production since 2007 than Wes Welker.

    The combination of Welker and the No. 1 player on this list made for an unfair combination to defend, especially when teams had no film of them together at the start of the 2007 season.

    Welker has now hit the 100-catch mark in all but one of his season in New England, and will likely do it again in 2012. The way the Patriot offense is designed, the slot receivers play a huge role in moving the chains. It just so happens Welker is the best slot receiver in football.

    In 2011, Welker exploded with more big plays, yards and touchdowns than had been seen from him previously, including a 99-yard touchdown reception vs. Miami.

    Welker arguably did everything he possibly could to prove his worth to the team in 2011, but he has still yet to receive a long-term contract. For such a great Patriot, his tenure may sadly end in a very messy divorce.

No. 1: Randy Moss

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    The most talented receiver ever to put on the Patriot uniform and maybe an NFL uniform is without a doubt Randy Moss.

    The two combined the best season in the history of quarterbacking with the best season in the history of receiving to create magic in 2007. A total of 23 of Tom Brady's 50 touchdown passes that season found Randy Moss, both NFL records to this day.

    Sure, Moss had his issues at times, but when he was on, it was scary for the other team. He finished his Patriots career with 50 touchdowns in 52 games. You cannot argue with those numbers.

    He even scored what should have been the touchdown of all touchdowns to clinch the perfect 19-0 season before the Giants' storybook ending crashed the party at Super Bowl XLII.

    He left his mark in New England and he will forever be the comparison thrown out by every New Englander when discussing outside receivers. Unfortunately, he set the bar too high for the rest.