In our final installment of this Friday's version of Around the AFC East, MaPatsFan - head blogger at Pats Pulpit - joins us to discuss the New England Patriots' receiving corps.
How will the Pats' receiving corps work this year? With Donte' Stallworth out of the picture, is Wes Welker likely to be the team's #2? Who besides Randy Moss and Welker is likely to see the most playing time?
Pats Pulpit: First, let's delve into how the Patriots use their receivers. All have differing skill sets and aren't interchangeable, so there's really no #1, #2, etc... Randy Moss is the seam guy; his particular forte is running down the sideline and pulling down the deep ball. At 6-4 and 210 lbs, he's physically built for this, too. He's tall enough to pull down the ball over the heads of shorter defensive backs and he's got long legs to beat those same DBs. In the middle and on slants, he looks awkward. That's where Wes Welker comes in. At 5-9 and 185 lbs, Wes is not fast in the flat, but is tricky underneath. Many have said his lateral movement, derived from years of soccer, is the key to his success in slant patterns and is the reason Brady often goes to him as the chain mover. A typical scenario is to look for Moss and if he's covered, toss it to Welker for less, but higher percentage yardage.
The underutilized Donte Stallworth was the bull of the group. To me, he was like a running back with wide receiver hands. He has the toughness and strength to break tackles and roll over DBs post catch and his YAC was excellent. This skill was particularly useful up the middle where Welker and Moss would usually drop to avoid getting crushed. His shoes will be tough to fill and Chad Jackson is the the heir apparent. A conversation with a Boston Globe reporter left me with doubts, though. He's injury prone (very sporadic play in 2 years with the Patriots) and has trouble with the playbook. He'll need to get Brady's trust before #12 will toss the rock to him.
Last but not least, Jabar Gaffney. At 26 he has a lot of playing time left and is typically used in sub-packages where the Patriots need a corner end zone catch; he excels in plays with tight coverage that need him to scrape his toenails in bounds to grab the ball.
This is a very romantic view of the Pats' receivers - and with how productive they were as a unit last season, it's deserved romanticism - but I personally think that the defection of Stallworth to Cleveland is an underrated development. Gaffney is an underrated receiver that makes plays, but can he be consistent enough to occasionally roll coverage away from Moss on the outside? The Pats were so effective last season because Stallworth was a player that the defense had to at least think about opposite Moss; I don't see the same issue when considering either Gaffney or Jackson. Welker's the wild card - if he can split out wide on occasion, the Pats will still be the best passing team in football. I just don't expect them to come too close to duplicating last season's record-setting numbers.
With that said, there's still depth. This receiving corps is Exhibit A as to why the Bills added four cornerbacks this off-season.