The top five receivers for the team from last year are either no longer around or—as in the case of Rob Gronkowski—battling injuries. The Patriots figure to be a much different squad when they take the field for the season opener September 8 against Buffalo.
So many questions surround this team this coming season, but most of them center around who Tom Brady will throw the ball to.
Will Danny Amendola be able to produce at the level that Wes Welker did year after year? Amendola caught 63 passes in 2012 but has played in just 12 of his last 32 games while a member of the St. Louis Rams.
Will Gronkowski be able to return to the dominant form he showed in the 2011 season, in which he caught 90 passes and scored 17 touchdowns?
And who will take the place of Aaron Hernandez, a player who became an extra security blanket for Brady? Of his 175 career catches, Hernandez was able to get a first down on 100 of those.
Aside from Amendola, the Patriots have Michael Jenkins and Julian Edelman. Beyond that, the receiving corps is a big question mark.
Matthew Slater has caught one NFL pass, the only other player on the roster who has a catch. Because of this, the Patriots have been one of the most talked about teams this offseason.
So how will the Patriots attempt to fix the holes in their lineup? The answer, at least in part, is Shane Vereen.
Vereen was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and will be entering his third season. He has rushed for just 308 yards in his career, but he will be a huge weapon for one reason—versatility.
Former New England running back Kevin Faulk was never the flashiest player in the league, but he stuck around for 13 years because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and be a great utility player.
Head coach Bill Belichick is a master of getting players to contribute in more than one way, and Vereen is the latest case of this.
With Stevan Ridley setting things up in the running game, Vereen will be able to come in and provide a nice burst off the bench. As Vereen was slowly integrated into the offense last season, they began to see how valuable he can be.
The Patriots will be able to take advantage of matchups this season by having Vereen line up and do the one thing no other running back in the league really can—be a legitimate wide receiver.
The Houston Texans found out how good a receiver Vereen can be in the divisional round of the playoffs last year. Brady found Vereen on this (video) 33-yard TD pass, and Vereen made an excellent over-the-shoulder catch.
Proving he could do it again, Vereen caught a 13-yard touchdown in the preseason opener against Philadelphia. It seems clear that the Patriots plan to use Vereen as a wide receiver when they get the chance, and he has shown he is capable in that role.
While that won't make up for the 283 passes that Welker, Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead caught a year ago, it's not a bad start.
Expect 2013 to be a breakout year for Vereen.