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What the return of Jabar Gaffney means for the Patriots’ passing game

05.02.12 at 11:02 pm ET

With the news the Patriots are ready to bring wide receiver Jabar Gaffney back into the fold, it gives the New England passing game another familiar face and brings one of the most dependable No. 3 receivers the Patriots have had in nearly 10 years back to Gillette Stadium.

The 31-year-old, who played in New England from 2006 through 2008, caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons for the Patriots while operating almost exclusively as the No. 3 receiver in the New England passing game. While others struggled in that role, Gaffney was able to flourish, and became the best and most consistent pass-catcher the Patriots have had at that spot since Brady assumed the starting quarterback job in 2001.

It was also clear that even though he departed New England for Denver following the 2008 season, he maintained a great affection for the Patriots and Bill Belichick. In the days leading up to the New England-Washington game this past season, it was clear that Gaffney still had a great affection for Belichick and the Patriots.

‘€œIt was the best,’€ Gaffney said. ‘€œHe pretty much ‘€¦ he gave me a lot of insight on the NFL. A great coach. He makes his players be students of the game. He helped me out a lot. He’€™s the man.

‘€œI’€™ll never forget what I learned there, playing under Belichick. Like I said, he taught me a lot about the NFL and how to survive in the NFL and how to be a great player.’€

‘€œJab could do everything well,’€ recalled quarterback Tom Brady the week before the Patriots met the Redskins earlier this year. ‘€œI think that’€™s his versatility, he’€™s got good size, he’€™s got long arms, he’€™s got good speed, he’€™s got good quickness, he plays every position, he’€™s smart.

‘€œHe’€™s just one of those guys that, from the day we got him here, he was just so reliable and dependable because he knew what to do and he did it well. You gain a lot of trust from the quarterback when all those things match up. I was bummed when he went to Denver, and I was bummed when he went to Washington.’€

Gaffney should still be able to have an impact on the New England passing game. He is coming off the finest year of his career, as he finished the 2011 season with career-highs in catches (68) and yards (947), and tied his career-best with five touchdown receptions, all for a Washington passing game that finished in the middle of the league in most major statistical categories. The fact that he can still get up and down the field at a good rate, his previous knowledge of the offense and his excellent rapport with Brady all figure to make him a favorite to make the final roster.

However, it was already a crowded field before the Patriots made their bid to bring back Gaffney. Now, they have 11 receivers on the roster, not including seventh-round draft pick Jeremy Ebert: Gaffney, Wes Welker (presuming he signs his franchise tender), Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth, Anthony Gonzalez, Julian Edelman, Chad Ochocinco, Tiquan Underwood, Matthew Slater and Britt Davis. At least one veteran of note won’€™t make it to opening day.

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