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Patriots Bye-Week Breakdown: Wide receivers

10.31.12 at 2:16 pm ET
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Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker head out to practice. (AP)

With the Patriots off this weekend, we’ve got our Bye Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We kicked things off with the running backs. Now, it’s the wide receivers.

Overview: It’s been an interesting year to this point for the wide receiver group. At the start of the season, there was talk about how Wes Welker was getting phased out of the offense. (It was a field day for conspiracy theorists, who overlooked the fact that maybe the reason he didn’t get as many snaps at the start of the year was because the wide receiver himself said he wasn’t ready for the start of the season.) But after a bumpy start, it has been pretty much a typical year for Welker, who is close to the same numbers he put up through eight games last season thanks in part to the fact that tight end Aaron Hernandez continues to struggle with injury. (See below for the numbers.) After it appeared there were times where they were forcing the ball to him, Brandon Lloyd has started to click with Brady, and had his best effort in the loss to the Ravens where he caught nine passes for 108 yards. After a solid start, Julian Edelman has had injury problems. Meanwhile, Deion Branch — who was released on Aug. 31 and brought back on Sept. 19 — hasn’t posted crazy numbers, but has been a dependable presence in key moments for New England. His best moment probably came when he drew a pair of defensive pass interference calls on St. Louis defensive back Bradley Fletcher on a drive just before the end of the first half last Sunday.

Depth chart: Welker (60 catches, 736 yards, two touchdowns), Lloyd (37 catches, 435 yards, three TDs), Edelman (13 catches, 100 yards, one TD), Branch (five catches, 50 yards).

Best moment: Welker has had four elite level performances over the course of the first eight games, but perhaps his best effort came in the loss to Seattle, where he had 10 catches (on 14 targets) for 138 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t so much the overall yardage that stood out in this one, however, but the fact that he took a tremendous shot in the second quarter from Seattle defensive back Brandon Browner and only missed three plays before returning to the field to catch a pass that helped move the chains for a first down. On an afternoon where very little was working for New England, Welker stood out.

Worst moment: Not many over the course of the first eight games, but our guess is probably Lloyd’s one catch (on eight targets) afternoon in the overtime win over the Jets, a game where Lloyd had at least two drops.

By the numbers: When compared with the first eight games of 2011, Welker’s production has dipped slightly, but instead of getting phased out of the offense, much of that can be attributed to the effect of having an extra receiver like Lloyd on the roster. Over the first half of last season, he had 66 catches on 93 targets for 960 yards and six touchdowns. Through the first eight games of 2012, he has 60 catches for 83 targets for 736 yards and two touchdowns. (That’s a difference of six catches, 10 targets, 224 yards and two touchdowns.)

Money quote: “I love Wes. He’s like one of my best friends. What he does on a daily basis to prepare himself really motivates everybody else. He’s a leader. He’s so tough. I’ve been in so many critical, critical situations with him where he’s worked so hard to do the right thing and vein the right place and make the play. He’s a phenomenal player.” – Quarterback Tom Brady on WEEI, Sept. 17.

Read More: bye week breakdown,
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