NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
In an effort to completely revamp their wide receiver personnel, the New England Patriots signed four significant veteran wide receivers this offseason: Danny Amendola, Lavelle Hawkins, Michael Jenkins, and Donald Jones. To complement those additions, New England drafted wide receiver Aaron Dobson (Marshall) in the second round of the draft, and Josh Boyce (Texas Christian) in the fourth round. Following the draft, the Patriots added three undrafted free agents at the position: T.J. Moe (Missouri), Kenbrell Thompkins (Clemson), and, most recently, Mark Harrison (Rutgers.) The nine aforementioned players will join returning Patriots Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, and Kamar Aiken in what should be a fierce roster battle. This article will detail the most likely candidates for roster spots.
1. Danny Amendola
Of the players mentioned, Danny Amendola will likely be New England’s most prominently-featured wide receiver in 2013. Amendola received $10 million guaranteed as a free agent, suggesting a significant role with the team. Head coach Bill Belichick has indicated that Amendola will contribute both inside and outside, which should result in myriad opportunities. Only another injury would prevent Amendola from significantly outproducing his 2012 campaign with the St. Louis Rams, in which he caught 63 passes for 666 yards and three touchdowns; it may be unrealistic to expect Amendola to eclipse Wes Welker’s 2012 campaign, but it’s possible that he could approach 100 catches on the season.
2. Aaron Dobson
Although New England’s offensive scheme is difficult for wide receivers to adapt to, it’s still likely that Aaron Dobson will make an important contribution to the passing game in 2013, as he offers an outstanding combination of size, speed, and body control to complement his soft hands. In Dobson, the Patriots hope to gain a wide receiver whose physical tools are well-suited to an outside role; they have lacked an outside option with his physical tools since trading Randy Moss. Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Amendola will be the most prominently-featured weapons in the passing game, which should allow Dobson time to develop.
3. Julian Edelman
Edelman will likely function as a reserve slot receiver in 2013, but should nonetheless be featured more prominently in New England’s offense than he was in 2012 (a season in which he caught 21 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns), especially in the event of an injury to Danny Amendola. Even if Amendola stays healthy throughout the entire season, the Patriots should be able to work Edelman onto the field by allowing Amendola to work on the outside. In addition to his receiving skills, Edelman is a dynamic punt returner and has previously worked as a defensive back in emergency situations, supplementing his value as a receiver. Of the wide receivers on roster, Edelman is also the most familiar with quarterback Tom Brady.
4. Josh Boyce
Because they drafted Boyce in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, it would come as a surprise if New England opted to release him before the start of the season. Boyce may have a slightly steeper learning curve than Dobson because he left school after his junior season, but he has some experience with option routes and may nonetheless make some contributions as a rookie. A strong receiver who ran a blistering 4.38-second 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine, he also posted tantalizing times in the short shuttle (4.10 seconds) and the three-cone drill (6.68 seconds.) If his hands look reliable prior to the start of the regular season, he could be integrated into the offense more thoroughly than anticipated.
5. Mark Harrison
The third rookie projected to make New England’s final roster, Harrison was not incredibly productive at Rutgers, catching 44-583-6 last season, but his physical tools may prevent him from making it to the practice squad; Harrison measured in at 6’3” and 231 pounds at the NFL Combine, then posted a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, 38.5” vertical, and 6.99-second three-cone drill. His upside gives him the edge over veterans Lavelle Hawkins, Michael Jenkins, and Donald Jones in this projection, who may offer more immediate production but lack Harrison’s long-term upside. The three aforementioned players should nonetheless increase the level of competition in training camp and throughout the preseason; it would not come as a surprise if one of the players were to make the final roster.
6. Matthew Slater
Slater may not receive much playing time at wide receiver, but his contributions on special teams should earn him a roster spot, making him the final wide receiver on roster in this projection. He has made the Pro Bowl in a special teams capacity in each of the past two seasons, and given Bill Belichick’s emphasis on strong special teams play, it would come as a surprise if he were left off the final roster in 2013. His primary competition for a spot may not necessarily come at the wide receiver position, but could be in the form of other effective special teams contributions at different positions, such as defensive back.
PS. T.J. Moe
Although Moe appears unlikely to make New England’s final roster in 2013, he makes sense as a logical practice-squad priority given his savvy route-running. While he lacks ideal top-end speed, recording a 4.74-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, he was able to compensate with outstanding times in the three-cone drill (6.53 seconds), vertical leap (36″), and short shuttle (3.96 seconds.) Both Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman have some durability concerns, so keeping Moe on the practice squad as an emergency option would be wise. Additionally, rookies Josh Boyce and Mark Harrison have dealt with foot injuries in 2013.