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A closer look at the return of WR Deion Branch

03.22.12 at 2:37 pm ET

In an offseason that’s seen a lot of additions at the wide receiver spot, the return of Deion Branch brings some consistency and familiarity to the position.

The 32-year-old (he’ll be 33 before the start of the 2012 season) Branch doesn’t have the same wheels that he used to, but his smarts, route-running ability and excellent working relationship with quarterback Tom Brady make Branch a smart re-sign for New England. When Chad Ochocinco struggled in the Patriots’ passing game last season, Brady leaned on Branch heavily as an outside presence and the veteran responded: In 15 games last season, Branch finished with 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns.

For a historical comparison, think of what veteran Troy Brown was asked to do in 2005 and 2006. Those years, the new arrivals were largely unable to mesh with Brady, and so the quarterback continued to lean on Brown’s smarts and veteran savvy. Those two years, Brown caught 39 and 43 balls, respectively, and continued to prove his worth as a part of the New England passing game, even though he didn’t have the same physical skills he possessed earlier in his career.

While there’s no reason to think that this group of new receivers will have a problem connecting with Brady, the fact that Branch will be there — just like the ultra-reliable Brown was those seasons — should give the quarterback the same sense of comfort. Expect the same sort of production from Branch in 2012 that you saw from Brown those years.

Going forward, he joins a crowded group at wide receiver, one that includes Wes Welker (presuming he signs his tender), as well as newcomers Brandon Lloyd and Anthony Gonzalez and returnee Donte Stallworth. In 2012, expect Lloyd to be the primary downfield threat on one side, while Branch will likely compete for playing time on the other side with a group that includes Stallworth and Ochocinco.

Read More: 2012 NFL Free Agency, Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd, Chad Ochocinco



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