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Patriots Blessed with Competition at WR, but Roster Spots All but Locked Down

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IJune 9, 2016

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 24: Julian Edelman #11 and Danny Amendola #80 of the New England Patriots take the field prior to the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Aaron Dobson, Devin Lucien, DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper, Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington.

Pick a wide receiver from that list. The rest will probably not make the New England Patriots' final 53-man roster coming out of training camp. With Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, rookie Malcolm Mitchell and special teams ace Matthew Slater locking up five spots at receiver, there appears to be just one roster spot remaining

Based on the early performances in minicamp, these receivers all understand the gravity of the situation. 

Thus far, Dobson and Martin have stood out above the rest. Leaping catches and beating traffic have been the standard, and both have met it time after time. 

Mark Daniels @MarkDanielsPJ

94 passes were caught today. Keshawn Martin led all with 10 receptions followed by Washington (9), Dobson (8), Carter (8) and Hogan (7).

Christopher Price @cpriceNFL

Another good day for Aaron Dobson, who made most of his opportunity with bigger names on the sidelines.

Dobson had the most impressive catch of minicamp on the first day, when he caught a one-handed left-handed touchdown grab while covered by two defenders. He continued that performance on Wednesday, with eight catches total and at least one from each of the Patriots' three quarterbacks. He stepped up his performance even further on Thursday, with 12 catches and a couple more impressive leaping grabs.

This is a career-defining year for Dobson, and he will have to maintain his high level of play when the Patriots return to training camp in July.

"I'm not trying to put any pressure on myself," Dobson said. "I'm just out here trying to do what I can do, have fun, learn and just get better."

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Martin, on the other hand, has been notable for his consistency. There have been a few spectacular catches, but he's showed up every day. He caught 10 passes on Tuesday, nine passes on Wednesday and seven on Thursday. This being his second year and first offseason with the Patriots, Martin is focusing on improving his consistency, and this week was a big step in that direction.

"I want to try to be more consistent," Martin said. "Just learn as much as I can, and when my number is called, make the play."

New England Patriots @Patriots

Wide receivers run through a drill during today's minicamp practice: https://t.co/Xsp9JGeI6o

Martin should be the front-runner ahead of Dobson and the rest of the pack in the hunt for that final roster spot, given his promising performances of 2015 and his hot start to practice this spring. There's also this important nugget: The contract extension he signed in January included $600,000 guaranteed for 2016, according to PatsCap.com

Lucien, Carter, Harper and Washington are all talented receivers, but it's going to be hard for them to break that glass ceiling where all those talented receivers are standing in their way. Lucien, Carter and Harper are all still eligible for the practice squad, assuming they clear waivers first. Washington's cap hit for 2016 is just $680,000, and the Patriots would get back $600,000 by releasing him.

That being said, minicamp may have been the first and last opportunity for each of those players to show their potential. Both Edelman and Amendola were absent throughout minicamp; if either or both are back on the field for the beginning of training camp, there won't be nearly as many opportunities available for wide receivers to get on the field and make a play.

Receivers like Martin have seized the opportunity.

"You just get more opportunities running different plays," Martin said of the benefit of the extra reps with Edelman and Amendola out. "I feel like it's really benefited us, guys are out there working and making plays, and we're going to continue to do that." 

It's also possible that the Patriots could suffer an injury at the position before the regular season begins. That's obviously not an ideal scenario, but at least it would appear that the Patriots are prepared—at least more prepared than last year, when one injury to Edelman was enough to throw the entire offense into the tank.

In that respect, a little competition could go a long way to shoring up the depth chart at a position that became a weakness in 2016.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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