Wide receiver Aaron Dobson sprinted down a rain-soaked field at Gillette Stadium in the New England Patriots' 2013 season finale against the Buffalo Bills. Despite a solid two or three yards of separation from his man, the Patriots receiver was unable to haul in the pass, which sailed over his head. He had come up lame, bothered by a foot injury that had been nagging him all season long.
Dobson would make an appearance in the AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos, but that was not the end of his injury. He had a screw inserted into his foot during the offseason and missed most of training camp as a result. An appearance in the preseason finale did not pave the way for a second-year jump, as Dobson found himself on and off the active roster at the beginning of the season—including Week 1.
He was in and out from Weeks 2-5, but after weeks and weeks of inaction, Dobson finally made his way back onto the field in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers, and finally had a pass thrown his way. Following the first pass in his direction, Dobson pulled up lame, holding his hamstring. That was the last we would see of Dobson in the 2014 season.
All the while, the Patriots were acclimating wide receiver Brandon LaFell to their offense, getting him and quarterback Tom Brady on the same page in a role that seemed to have been Dobson's for the taking just months before.
|Aaron Dobson (inc. playoffs)|
To say Dobson is facing a make-or-break season in 2015 may be an understatement. At the beginning of the 2014 season, he appeared headed for a key role in the offense. Now, the third-year pass-catcher is on the outside looking in.
Between LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, the Patriots have an abundance of talent at wide receiver, but Dobson does have one thing working in his favor: LaFell is the only one of those three receivers that truly fits into the X-receiver role, with the requisite size, physicality and speed to win matchups on the outside and create big plays.
The Patriots drafted Dobson to provide a boundary presence with some ability to threaten a defense vertically, but thus far, the Marshall product has hauled in only three passes on 18 attempts that traveled 20 yards or more through the air, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Needless to say, the big-play potential has not shown up in a consistent way just yet.
The Patriots could always use another big-bodied receiver to help stretch and spread the field, and give Brady another option on the perimeter, but offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has not been shy about putting other players on the outside—whether it's a smaller receiver like Edelman or a massive tight end like Rob Gronkowski.
One of the bigger concerns for the Patriots is their inability to draft and develop receivers. Part of the problem may be the Patriots' complex playbook, which is exceedingly difficult for receivers to grasp. But another part of the problem may also be the receivers the Patriots have selected. Dobson is another in a line of receivers like Taylor Price, Brandon Tate, Bethel Johnson and others who have not been able to grasp that offense, in part because they came from simple offenses at college.
Entering his third year, that's not an excuse for Dobson anymore. He has to be getting to a point where he is comfortable with an NFL offense. According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Dobson should be ready to prepare for the 2015 season thanks to the severity of his hamstring injury (or lack thereof).
It's a good thing, because in a competition for snaps with Edelman, LaFell and Amendola, Dobson will need all the opportunities he can get in order to prove he deserves the playing time.
The Patriots have not shied away from parting ways with underperforming draft picks. Just ask cornerback Ras-I Dowling, linebacker Shawn Crable and cornerback Darius Butler.
Make no mistake; Dobson will have to earn his keep when training camp rolls around. In order to do so, he will have to stay healthy, get on the same page with Brady and prove that he has learned the playbook.