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Aaron Dobson Will Be in the Fight of His Life for a Roster Spot in 2016

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMay 13, 2016

New England Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson (17) warms up before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

It's May, which must mean it's time to pontificate about whether wide receiver Aaron Dobson has a future with the New England Patriots.

Ahead of the 2015 season, Dobson's roster spot appeared less than stable, but the young wide receiver held on in a competition with veterans Brian Tyms and Brandon Gibson. This year, he faces opposition from veterans Chris Hogan and Nate Washington and rookies Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien. 

Of the receivers presently on the team, there are three or four roster spots already sewn up: incumbents Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola and newcomers Hogan and Mitchell. (Although, Mitchell would not be the first fourth-round pick to be cut before his rookie year.) 

Between Washington, Lucien and holdover backup receivers like Chris Harper and Keshawn Martin, Dobson is surrounded by competition, young and old. He'll be fighting a long, hard (and some would say uphill) battle to get back into the conversation of the top five receivers on the roster. 

Ben Volin @BenVolin

Patriots WR depth chart: Edelman Chris Hogan Amendola Keshawn Martin Malcolm Mitchell Nate Washington Aaron Dobson Chris Harper Devin Lucien

In his first three years in the NFL, Dobson has briefly flashed brilliance in between long stints off the field either due to injury or as a healthy inactive. The Patriots saw great long-term value in his skill set and ability, but that value has not been achieved as of yet due to those injuries and inability to get on the field. 

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What are those skills? Before the 2013 NFL draft, NFL.com lauded the Marshall product for his size, speed, strong hands and ability to make contested catches. Those are exactly the skills that the Patriots need at wide receiver headed into 2016. The surplus of boundary-type receivers on the depth chart indicates that the Patriots may have a somewhat-evolving definition of what they want in the position.

As the Patriots shift toward more two-tight end sets on offense with the arrival of Martellus Bennett, they may also need bigger receivers on the outside to help in run-blocking situations. That seems to be right up Dobson's alley; at 6'3" and 205 pounds, he has the size to handle any cornerback who might be assigned to his side of the field.

The same skills that were lauded coming out of school are also the skills that Dobson has yet to display in the NFL—especially the strong hands, with a drop rate of nearly 17 percent in his first three years, according to Pro Football Focus.

Patriots WR drop rates, 2014-15
PlayerCatchesDropsDrop rate
Julian Edelman1962310.5
Danny Amendola11086.8
Chris Hogan7778.3
Nate Washington881514.6
Aaron Dobson16211.1
Malcolm Mitchell8944.7
Devin Lucien9555
Source: ProFootballFocus.com

Comparatively, Hogan has dropped 7.4 percent of his catchable passes in the same time frame, and Washington's drop rate from 2013-15 was 11.5 percent. Mitchell dropped four of the 93 catchable passes thrown his way over the past two years for a drop rate of just 4.3 percent.

Head coach Bill Belichick has said in the past that the top two job descriptions for a wide receiver are to get open and catch the ball. Dobson has struggled to do either on a consistent basis since entering the NFL three years ago. 

Simply put, Dobson has had opportunities to make a big impact in the Patriots offense, but he has not yet seized on those opportunities in a way that has earned him the confidence of the coaching staff to carry a significant burden for the offense as its top X receiver on the boundary. That explains why the Patriots took it upon themselves to create competition at the position this summer.

It also explains why this could be Dobson's last chance to make a good impression. 


 

Quotes are firsthand.

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