Patriots Positional Playoff Preview: Wide receiver
|01.06.13 at 2:23 pm ET|
With the Patriots off this weekend and the postseason underway, we’ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a week-long, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We started with the quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends. Now, it’s the wide receivers.
Depth chart: Wes Welker (118 catches on 174 targets, 1,354 yards, six touchdowns), Brandon Lloyd (74 catches on 130 targets, 911 yards, four touchdowns), Julian Edelman (21 catches on 32 targets, 235 yards, three touchdowns), Deion Branch (16 catches on 29 targets, 145 yards), Donte’ Stallworth (one catch on two targets, 63 yards, one touchdown).
Overview: It was another amazing year for Welker — after a kerfuffle at the start of the regular season about how he was used (which only occurred after Welker himself said he wasn’t ready to start the season), he had another ridiculous year, and added another page to what should be a Hall of Fame resume. This season, he became the first receiver in NFL history with at least five seasons of 100 or more receptions. And against the Jaguars on Dec. 23, Welker passed Jerry Rice with his 18th career game with 10 or more catches. For the season, he ended up with 118 catches for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns — his 118 receptions marked the third-highest total of his career. (He caught 123 balls in 2009 and 122 in 2011.)
As for the rest of the receivers, Lloyd could be underwhelming at times, but he brought a new dynamic to the New England passing game with his sideline work. (There were also moments of sheer brilliance — go back and flip on the tape of him absolutely depantsing Baltimore cornerback Cary Williams in a September game against the Ravens.) In the end, his numbers — 74 catches — were about right for someone who was a third or fourth option in the passing game.
(Ultimately, in my opinion, I’d be willing to grant some more slack to Lloyd, especially thinking back to an interview with Brady at the start of the summer where the quarterback confessed that he’s never been gifted with a receiver that has talents unique as the ones offered by Lloyd. ‘We haven’t had anyone quite like him,’ Brady said shortly after getting a chance to work with Lloyd. ‘He’s got great ball skills and great body control. If you get it near him, he’s going to catch it. It’s just a matter of sometimes it doesn’t look like he’s really open and then boom, he springs open on you. So sometimes you think, ‘Oh he’s covered,’ and then you get off him and then you watch the film and you’re like, ‘How did he get open?’’ Even after a full year, some of how Lloyd is being used might come down to a matter of trust for the quarterback, and that might still be a work in progress.)
Edelman showed flashes at the start of the season (usually in Welker’s stead), but struggled with injury over the course of the season before landing on injured reserve with a broken foot last month. Meanwhile, both Branch and Stallworth did a nice job provide depth and the occasional catch here and there, with both of them waking up the echoes from time to time.
Going forward into the postseason, it’ll be the Welker and (to a lesser extent, depending on the health of the tight ends) Lloyd show. It’ll be the first chance at the postseason for the 31-year-old Lloyd, and while we’re pretty sure of what Welker is going to bring to the field in the playoffs, the addition of Lloyd will make for an interesting mix for the New England offense.
Best Moment: It was in a loss, but Welker was just tremendous in defeat against the Seahawks in Seattle. With the offense out of sync, Welker was fundamentally the only option when it came to moving the chains, and he was almost enough to lift the Patriots over the uberphysical Seahawks. Welker had 10 catches on 14 targets for 138 yards and a touchdown against Seattle. He also absorbed the hit of the year when he had his clock cleaned by Seahawks defensive back Brandon Browner. Welker went to the sidelines, collected himself, and was back in the game a few plays later.
Worst Moment: Probably nitpicking here, but at least from a statistical perspective, the two that stand out are Lloyd’s one-catch, eight-target performance in an overtime win over the Jets on Oct. 21 and Welker’s three-catch outing in the regular-season opener against the Titans.
By the numbers: For all the talk at the start of the season about him being phased out of the offense, Welker was actually targeted three more times in 2012 than he was in 2011.
Money quote: ‘He’s had a good season. He’s been running very good routes; I’ve just got to do a good job of finding him and giving him chances to catch the ball. I think that’s my responsibility. I have a lot of confidence in Brandon and Deion [Branch] and Wes [Welker] to do their job and do what they need to get open, catch the ball, make the right decision on the routes.’ — Tom Brady on Brandon Lloyd.