Heading into training camp, the New England Patriots were believed to have one of the deepest wide-receiving groups in the NFL. Below Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd on the depth chart, there were Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth, who made even Deion Branch an afterthought.
Yet after cut-down day, the team has been reduced to 75 players, and the wideout position has been reset.
Gaffney was penciled in as the team's No. 3 route-runner and Stallworth was in a battle with Branch for the No. 4 spot.
With the familiar faces gone, where does the position stand now?
Per Ourlads.com, the Pats currently have eight receivers on the squad. That list includes Welker, Lloyd and Branch, as well as the versatile Julian Edelman, Pro Bowl gunner Matthew Slater, seventh-rounder Jeremy Ebert, 4th and Long winner Jesse Holley and recently claimed ex-practice-squad player Kerry Taylor.
From that selection, Lloyd, Welker and Branch are clearly safe at this time. In addition, it can be assumed that Edelman and Slater's presence on special teams will help them secure jobs with the club.
But without question, the unheralded likes of Jeremy Ebert, Jesse Holley and Kerry Taylor have opportunities to seize what's rightfully theirs—a roster spot. If any of these men can make a leap onto the 53-man roster, it will be because of their performance in extended action tonight against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
For further insight into the competition, I asked Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald how he sees the position shaping up via Twitter:
@oliverbthomas Welker, Lloyd, Branch, Edelman, Slater w/ the possibility of Gaffney returning when he's healthy.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) August 29, 2012
As for now, Gaffney is dealing with a right thigh injury, reports Rotoworld.com, although if he can recover quickly, it wouldn't be a shocker to see Patriots brass bring the 31-year-old back in for another go-around.
At the very most, the Patriots will carry seven receivers on the final roster. At the very least, that number will be five. How will it all shake out? That remains uncertain.
By Aug. 31, the roster will be shaved to 53 men, and the picture will be much clearer.
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