To help soften the blow of losing versatile tight end Aaron Hernandez to an ankle injury, the New England Patriots have brought back a familiar face this week.
Veteran receiver Deion Branch, whom the Patriots cut in August, was re-signed Wednesday on a one-year deal. Veteran tight end Kellen Winslow was also added to help make up for Hernandez's 5-6-week absence.
Branch will take Greg Salas' spot on the Patriots' 53-man roster.
While Branch provides the Patriots with a reliable player who knows the offense inside and out, his potential fantasy impact may not be significant.
Below, we break down what Branch brings to the table through our fantasy glasses.
During his best years, Branch was Tom Brady's favorite receiving option and a guy you could count on for at least 50-60 receiving yards a game.
In seven years with the Patriots and another three with the Seattle Seahawks, Branch caught 502 passes for 6,499 yards and 39 touchdowns. He also won MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX after catching 11 passes for 133 yards in a Patriots win.
But overall, Branch has never been much in terms of an impact fantasy football producer.
Consider that Branch's most productive season as a professional came in 2005, when he caught 78 passes for 998 yards and five scores. '05 remains the only year in Branch's 10 NFL seasons that included over 70 catches and 900 yards.
In at least four seasons, injury cut Branch's production to under 500 yards.
A season ago, the 33-year-old receiver caught 51 passes for 702 yards and five touchdowns over 15 games. He has missed just two total games in the last two seasons.
The Patriots cut Branch during final cutdowns at the end of the 2012 preseason.
Branch has been a borderline WR2 and solid flex option during most of his career with the Patriots. But in 2012, and in this situation, his fantasy value may be closing in on zero.
At 33 years old, Branch is no longer the quick-twitch athlete he once was, and separation appeared to be a major issue both late in 2011 and during the 2012 preseason.
Over the last nine weeks in 2011, Branch eclipsed 60 yards just once. In six of those games, Branch failed to crack 40 yards. As Brady focused more on Welker and the team's duo of matchup-nightmare tight ends, Branch's role steadily decreased.
Considering his role is likely to be even more reduced upon return, the likelihood that Branch is able to re-create start-able fantasy production remains very low.
Branch's role in the offense may have a short shelf-life, too. When Hernandez returns in 5-6 weeks, it's likely New England goes back to more two-tight end, two-receiver sets with Welker and free-agent signing Brandon Lloyd.
Speaking of Lloyd, any fantasy projection for Branch has to include his impact.
When the Patriots go in their characteristic "12" personnel with one back and two tight ends, Branch likely won't be on the field. Lloyd, who has 13 catches for 129 yards in two games, has taken over Branch's role in the base offense.
Only those in desperate need of receiver help should even consider adding Branch at this point. His role on an evolving offense isn't defined, and his production wasn't even off the charts when he had a more featured position within the Patriots offense.
Avoid for now.
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