Forecasting the New England Patriots' Depth Chart at WR
It is going to be a very young unit for the Patriots, consisting of multiple rookie wideouts for certain. Really, the only receiver who knows exactly what his role will be in 2013 is Danny Amendola, who will obviously operate in the slot.
There may be a load of questions surrounding the position, but there is certainly no lack of talent. This unit has quite a large amount of potential, and the Pats still have good ol' Tom Brady under center.
Here is a forecast of what the Patriots' depth chart will look like at the wide receiver position.
The only player guaranteed to start at wide receiver for the Patriots is Danny Amendola. The slot receiver was the team's biggest catch in the offseason, a younger pair of legs to replace veteran Wes Welker.
Amendola is the key to the Pats' passing offense this season as Brady's new go-to guy. Aaron Hernandez is no more, and it is unclear whether or not Rob Gronkowski will be available come opening day.
This means that Amendola will need to be ready to carry the load in the passing game right from the start. He will be seeing far more balls thrown in his direction this season than ever before with the St. Louis Rams.
The former Texas Tech Red Raider is now in the prime of his career, entering his fifth season in the league. In a unit filled with young guys, Amendola will have to be the leader of the receiving corps.
The Patriots may be able to use Amendola differently than how the team used Welker. Mostly, Amendola will run quick routes from the slot, but he provides versatility also. He will likely be more effective with deep routes than Welker was since he has slightly better speed and a little more size.
The wide receiver with the highest ceiling on this Patriots roster is Aaron Dobson. He has an opportunity to become a flat-out special player in the NFL.
What have the Patriots been missing since the departure of Randy Moss? That, my friends, is a legitimate deep threat. Dobson has the skill set to become that missing piece in the Pats offense.
His mix of size, speed and athleticism makes Dobson the perfect candidate to be the starting outside wide receiver. He can make difficult catches and did not drop a single pass last season with the Marshall Thundering Herd.
It seemed as though Dobson would compete with Donald Jones and fellow rookie Josh Boyce for playing time on the outside. However, Jones was cut by the Pats last week, giving way to more opportunities for rookies like Dobson.
The Patriots have a horrible track record when it comes to rookie wideouts. Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Taylor Price and Brandon Tate never accomplished anything as receivers. This has to change this season, and Dobson and Boyce will have the chance to do so.
Dobson wasn't much to write home about during organized team activities, but with Jones out of the way, perhaps he will be even more motivated to become starter material.
With the exception of Kamar Aiken (who played in just one game for the Pats) and special teams guru Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman is the only returning wide receiver from the 2012 roster.
Like Amendola, Edelman is entering his fifth season in the league (all with the Patriots). He is the only receiver on this roster who is familiar with the Pats offense, which makes him pretty valuable.
Last season, the former college quarterback was well on his way to having the most impressive season of his young career. He caught a career-high three touchdowns, returned a punt for a score and made three starts at receiver in 2012 before suffering a season-ending foot injury.
Edelman actually started over Welker until he injured his left hand three games in. Injuries limited him from having an even better season, and he will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list with Gronk.
When he returns to the field, Edelman will definitely see an extended role at receiver.
So far, Josh Boyce hasn't been able to show the coaching staff what he can bring to the table due to a right foot injury. The good news is he was not placed on the PUP list and should be ready to get on the field for the Pats when training camp starts.
Boyce can make a difference for the Patriots immediately. He is very strong (22 bench press reps at the combine) and has good speed as well.
Not only does Boyce have the assets to become an NFL wideout, he is also very smart and can pick up the offense in no time. Additionally, he is sufficient at run blocking, which is key because the Patriots were No. 2 in the league in rushing attempts last season.
Boyce and Dobson seem like the best fits to start as the "X" receiver for the Pats, but training camp and preseason games will decide that. The Patriots should definitely expect strong play out of Boyce this season.
This is where the battle begins for a spot on the final 53-man roster. Kenbrell Thomkins, Mark Harrison, Michael Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins, Kamar Aiken, Quentin Sims and Perez Ashford figure to fight it out for the final receiver spot.
The Patriots even had a slight interest in veteran Laurent Robinson. My pick for the No. 5 wide receiver on the Pats' depth chart is Thompkins, just edging out Harrison.
There are currently six rookie receivers on the Pats' roster. Thompkins had an eye-opening spring and got first-team reps at OTAs. ESPN's Mike Reiss compared Thompkins to David Givens due to his physicality.
Thompkins has solid size at 6'1" and has a slight advantage heading into training camp after an impressive start at OTAs. With the release of Donald Jones, opportunities for rookie receivers like Thompkins arise.
Though Matthew Slater probably will not see much action at wide receiver this season, he is extremely valuable on special teams and cannot be let go. This makes it tough for veterans like Jenkins and Hawkins, who are looking for a spot with the Pats to continue their careers.
Slater is one of the top special teams players in the NFL. He was selected to the Pro Bowl this past season.
With Slater taking the No. 6 spot on the depth chart, that really only leaves No. 5 up for grabs. The Patriots have options for what they would like to do with the final receiver spot.
They could bring in a veteran, such as Jenkins, to help Dobson and Boyce adjust to the NFL. The Pats could also go with another rookie (Thompkins or Harrison) with more potential, which seems to be the more likely option.