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Bye-Week Breakdown: Wide receivers

10.21.11 at 1:25 am ET
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Over the course of the next few days, we’€™ll roll out something called Bye Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots as they head into the bye weekend. We’€™ve already tackled the tight end spot. Now, it’€™s the wide receivers.

Overview: The Patriots passing game has been the best in the league through the first six games of the season, and a sizable reason for that has been the connection between Tom Brady and Wes Welker.

Welker’€™s 51 catches and 785 yards make up 32 percent of the Patriots’€™ receptions and 36 percent of their total receiving yards. (He’€™s just off the pace to shatter the league records for most catches, but can still break the record for most receiving yards in a season — at this rate, Welker will have 136 catches and 2,093 receiving yards.)

As for the rest of the receiving corps, Deion Branch has provided depth and dependability at the No. 2 spot (he has managed to make at least one important catch through each one of the first six games). However, it’€™s clear that Chad Ochocinco continues to struggle in the offense, and it will be interesting to see what sort of role he has in the passing game when he returns from the bye weekend.

Meanwhile, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater continue to serve more as special teams contributors than as wide receivers, getting only occasional snaps on offense, while second-year receiver Taylor Price remains a non-entity with just one snap through six games.

Depth chart: Welker (51 catches, 785 yards, six touchdowns), Branch (26 catches, 369 yards, two touchdowns), Ochocinco (nine catches, 136 yards, zero touchdowns), Edelman (three caches, 25 yards, zero touchdowns), Slater (one catch, 46 yards).

Best moment: Welker has already produced a panoply of impressive moments over the first six games of the season, but the best moment for any wide receiver this season likely came in the season opener against the Dolphins where Welker hooked up with Brady on a 99-yard reception, tying the league record for longest offensive play.

Worst moment: Ochocinco’€™s drop of what would have been a sure touchdown catch in the loss to the Bills.

By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: Welker already has 42 yards after catches in the red zone this season, which puts him on pace for 112 such yards this season. Since they began tracking the stat in 1992, the NFL record for red zone YAC yards in a season by a wide receiver is 81, by Steve Smith of the 2005 Carolina Panthers. The Patriots’€™ club record is 69 yards, set by Welker last season.

Note this: Actually, Welker already has 397 overall YAC yards this season, which would already be the 9th best season by a Patriots wide receiver since 1992. He’€™s on pace for 1,058 YAC yards this year, which would not only break the NFL record for wide receivers since 1992 (810 by Smith, 2005 Panthers), but would break the record regardless of position (930 by Marshall Faulk of the 1999 Rams).

Money quote: ‘€œNothing surprises me with Wes — he’€™s the heart and soul of this team. He’€™s been that way since the day he got here. He works his tail off, and he’€™s a great player, a great teammate. He’€™s become a real dynamic player over the years. He’€™s made some huge plays for us. He’€™s clutch — tough, mentally tough, physically tough.’€ – Brady on Welker

Read More: bye week breakdown, Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman
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