Brandon LaFell Joins Crowded New England Patriots WR Corps

BJ KisselContributor IMarch 17, 2014

Carolina Panthers' Brandon LaFell (11) controls the catch and turns away from New Orleans Saints' Malcolm Jenkins (27) during the second half an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. The Panthers won 17-13. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Bob Leverone/Associated Press

Most of the attention the New England Patriots have been receiving during this free-agency period centers around the defensive side of the ball, namely bringing in cornerback Darrelle Revis.

The Patriots did make a move on the other side of the ball by signing former Carolina Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell to a three-year contract.

This wasn't a blockbuster move by any means. It was actually surprising it came as a multi-year deal, given the market and the Patriots' current roster.

Among the Patriots' young receiving corps, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have all shown promise when given an opportunity. 

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), LaFell finished the 2013 season as the No. 93-ranked receiver in the NFL.

So for the Patriots to give LaFell a three-year deal means they believe there's more to his production than we've seen through his four-year career. 

Brandon LaFell's Four-Year Career

As far as production, LaFell has been consistent in that his last two years he's had 44 and 49 receptions, respectively, to go with 677 and 627 yards, respectively, as well. 

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), 63 percent of Lafell's routes were ran out of the slot in 2013. This is an area Patriots fans expected to see Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman take the majority of the snaps. 

Both Edelman and Amendola are listed at 5'10", but LaFell is listed at 6'2". Whatever plan the Patriots have for LaFell offensively, it differs from simply throwing him in to compete for snaps with guys with completely different skill sets.

LaFell is a bigger target and won't beat you down the field with his speed. But he will be able to stretch the seam for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense from the slot, and being a bigger target than Amendola or Edelman should open that route up while he's on the field.

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

This play above just shows one example of how the Panthers moved LaFell around in the slot and found ways to get him the ball. 

Most of LaFell's damage last season was on intermediate routes. He's not a burner that's going to get behind the defense too often. 

Of the 49 receptions LaFell had in 2013, only 17 came beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He's a bigger, more physical version of a slot receiver. 

The Patriots must have a specific plan in mind for LaFell and how he'll fit into their offense that's different from Amendola and Edelman, the other receivers who will be taking time in the slot. 

LaFell's bigger frame may be insurance for Rob Gronkowski, the star tight end who has been dealing with a multitude of injuries. LaFell is obviously not a tight end, but he provides a bigger body for crossing routes and seam routes that would give Brady a larger catch radius than what was previously on the roster. 

There shouldn't be too much to be expected of LaFell as far as production. He's ideally a borderline No. 3 or No. 4 option in the Patriots passing attack, but with a reasonable contract and a skill set they needed and felt like they could use, this is a very low-risk move by the Patriots.

Despite the multi-year contract he signed, the fact the Patriots have three young receivers on the roster should push LaFell to feel like he's in a contract year every year.

That's a good thing for the Patriots. 

It would be easy to assume LaFell's production will rise simply because he'll be playing with a better quarterback in New England in Brady, but LaFell won't see the same number of targets in New England unless something goes wrong. 

Amendola, Edelman, Gronkowski and Shane Vereen should be the top four targets in the passing game for the Patriots next season.

Where LaFell will fit is yet to be known, but the Patriots got a low-risk, low-ceiling move with a veteran receiver who brings a skill set and size they could use. 

Although it may be crowded, the Patriots receiver corps got better with the LaFell signing, even if he doesn't light up the box scores.