With Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's coaching staff receiving the lion's share of credit doled out by the media—rightly so, in some cases—over the past 13 years of success, the pass-catchers in New England tend to get short shrift.
That tendency came to a head when looking at the wide receiver power rankings from Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. New England's group came in at No. 24, behind receiver hotbeds such as the New York Jets (No. 23), Miami Dolphins (No. 21) and Washington Redskins (No. 7).
I fear Miller has missed the forest for the trees. He makes some good points about the durability of some of the parts of New England's offensive machine, but the beauty of this particular model is that it can still function with one component misfiring.
Let's take a look at Miller's reasoning, starting with "The New England Patriots are lucky they have Tom Brady."
This is tough to dispute. Brady certainly has done his part to lift the performance of New England's offense. Using a great quarterback to downplay the ability of a receiver group, however, is a dubious argument. Consider, for example, the Denver Broncos' receivers—with Peyton Manning at the helm—rank No. 1.
Miller continued on, saying, "Looking at this roster you see Rob Gronkowski, who is an All-Pro when healthy, and not much else to worry a defense."
I wouldn't be afraid of one squirrel, but a backyard full of them would terrify me. While it is helpful to have one, a top-of-the-food-chain carnivore like Calvin Johnson who can get open on a whim isn't a necessity.
Are the Patriots receivers the No. 24 group in the NFL?
No matter how small or untalented they may be, only one receiver needs to be open for a play to be successful. If anything, Brady has held the Patriots back in this area. Where the open receiver was always his favorite, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Gronkowski have led him to rely on security blankets more than ever.
Names don't worry defenses, but an open receiver does. With multiple options at "X", "Z" and in the slot, Josh McDaniels can plug in pieces to take advantage of the opposing defense's weaknesses.
Julian Edelman is a chain-mover with great short-area ability, but you're not putting your No. 1 cornerback on him out of necessity. Danny Amendola hasn't been able to stay healthy, and youngsters Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are still very raw all-around.
Edelman caught 105 balls for 1,056 yards. Put whatever cornerback on him that you see fit. Belichick and Brady will take effective over flashy every Sunday.
You can call out Amendola for his poor injury-luck all you want, but the same player gutted out the majority of the season with a torn groin. His gritty Week 1 performance against the Buffalo Bills is worthy of song.
Miller makes a good point on Thompkins—who might not make the 53-man roster—and Boyce, but it is tough to call Dobson raw. Before his foot injury, Dobson had made enormous strides since his uneven opening weeks. He averaged over 4.3 receptions, 76 yards and a touchdown in the three weeks before pulling up lame.
Miller also said, "Keep an eye on Brandon LaFell here, but the fact that he's considered an impact performer tells you all you need to know about this receiving corps."
He downplays LaFell's possible contributions in 2014, but his performance in 2013 was better than most think. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), quarterbacks had a rating of 82.8 when throwing in his direction, better than A.J. Green (76.8), Hakeem Nicks (58.0) and Stephen Hill (43.1), to name a few.
New England's receiver group shouldn't—and won't—be confused with one of the all-time greats. The depth and versatility they bring, however, will give the Patriots enough production to make another Super Bowl run.