New England Patriots: Which Wide Receiver Will Be Tom Brady's Biggest Weapon?
The 2011 season for Patriots' tight ends was nothing short of prolific. Rob Gronkowski set the single season record for touchdowns by a tight end en route to leading the NFL in touchdown receptions with 17. Couple that with his 1300+ receiving yards and Aaron Hernandez's impressive seven TD, 900+ yard 2011 campaign and you can see why the Patriots two-headed tight end monster is a force to be reckoned with.
As a result, the Pats' offensive attack, especially in the red zone, has become more TE-oriented.
Of the Patriots true wide receiver personnel, only two players had over 300+ receiving yards in 2011, and collectively only posted 15 receiving TDs, two beneath Gronk's individual total.
Opposing defense's will be looking to limit Gronkowski and Hernandez's touches, particularly near the goal-line. This overcompensation should leave exploitable opportunities for the Pats wide receivers.
The question is, which Patriots' wide receivers will take advantage?
#4 Deion Branch
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"There's nobody that I enjoy playing with more than this guy. It's always been that way. He's my locker-mate and one of my great friends. He's just everything you look for in a receiver."
Branch returned to the Patriots in 2010 after an unsuccessful four-and-a-half year stint with the Seahawks. His lackluster performance in his time in Seattle, and his success in his return to New England demonstrated the strength of the Brady/Branch connection.
In his first full season back as a Patriot in 2011, Branch eclipsed 700 receiving yards, a number he only reached once in Seattle. He also posted five touchdowns—a total he never reached as a Seahawk.
#3 Jabar Gaffney
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After leaving the Patriots, Jabar Gaffney's career took a different trajectory than Branch.
His return to New England should mark his continued rise as a bona fide NFL threat. There are few teams in the NFL where Gaffney would be the third best wide receiver; the Patriots receiving corps is just that deep going into the 2012 season.
#2 Brandon Lloyd
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The Patriots big offseason splash signing could not have addressed a bigger need. Brandon Lloyd was brought on to bolster the Pats' downfield offense.
Lloyd had a breakout season in 2010, posting over 1,400 receiving yards in Denver and 11 TDs, followed by a solid 2011 campaign that saw him pull in over 900 yards in a season split between the Broncos and the Rams.
The new Patriots acquisition only has two solid years of production in a nine year career, but being paired with Tom Brady should continue the recent success he's enjoyed.
#1 Wes Welker
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Wes Welker is the best receiver on the Pats, and one of the best in the NFL.
His 2011 campaign saw him truly return to his post-knee-injury form, leading the NFL wide receivers in receptions (122) and first downs (77), and finishing second in total receiving yards (1,569) and yards/game (98.1).
His outstanding season might have been lost in all the coverage the breakout tight ends received, but Welker deserves his due.