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Resetting Patriots depth chart at wide receiver

03.26.13 at 2:10 pm ET
By
Donald Jones

Donald Jones

For the Patriots, the personnel changes at wide receiver this offseason are nothing new. Since he assumed the starting job in 2001, Tom Brady has gone through several different groups of receivers, and as the Patriots’ passing game continues to evolve, the 2013 incarnation will be the fifth different group that Brady will work with.

While other ancillary wide receivers came and went — and with the understanding that the Patriots have bolstered the depth at the tight end position as the depth at receiver has diminished — here’s the overall nucleus of the wide receiver position since Brady assumed the starting job in 2001.

2001-2004: Troy Brown, David Patten, David Givens, Deion Branch.
2005-2006: Branch, Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney.
2007-2009: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte’ Stallworth.
2010-2012: Wes Welker, Branch, Brandon Lloyd.

With the understanding that there’s still a lot of time in the team-building process between now and the start of training camp (between the end of free agency and the draft) here’s a look at depth chart at receiver for the Patriots, as well as some possibilities for New England at the receiver position between now and the start of the season.

Donald Jones: The 6-foot, 208-pound Jones is a Youngstown State product who spent three seasons in the league, all with the Bills, and has 82 career receptions. His best year came in 2012 when the 25-year-old caught 41 passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns.

Danny Amendola: The 27-year-old, who had a career-high 85 catches for St. Louis in 2010, has followed an eerily similar career arc as Welker, who blossomed when he first arrived in New England in 2007. The Patriots hope that the 5-foot-11, 188-pounder can continue on the same path that saw Welker — who was a little-used part of the Miami offense before he arrived in Foxboro — catch 100 passes in five of his six seasons with the Patriots.

(In addition, the Patriots depth chart also includes Kamar Aiken, Jeremy Ebert and Andre Holmes. Ebert was a seventh-round pick of the Patriots last season who spent some time on the practice squad, while Aiken ended the season on the practice squad and Holmes was added to the roster in January after spending part of the 2012 season with the Cowboys. And while Matthew Slater is technically listed as a wide receiver, he’s more of a special teamer.)

There remains a handful of free-agent possibilities for the Patriots, including four guys who have suited up for New England in the past and could be called upon once again:

Julian Edelman: A seventh-round pick out of Kent State in 2009, Edelman has shown flashes over his first four seasons in a New England uniform, including 37 catches as a rookie, and 21 receptions at the start of the 2012 season when he saw an uptick in playing time, mostly at the expense of Welker. Presuming he does return, the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder could pick up some of the targets that went to Welker over the last few seasons.

Brandon Lloyd: Lloyd was released earlier this month before the team was set to deliver a $3 million roster bonus. In his one season with the Patriots, Lloyd had 74 catches for 911 yards and four touchdowns. While he had some terrific moments — including eight catches against Arizona, nine against Baltimore and 10 against the Niners — he was underwhelming at times. However, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him ultimately return.

Deion Branch: Branch was able to give the Patriots some snaps last season, but was mostly around to help provide some depth at the position. He ended the season with 16 catches for 145 yards in 10 games for New England. Branch, who will be 34 before the start of the 2013 season, has to be considered a longshot to return, but it still wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder back on an emergency basis if he was needed.

Donte’ Stallworth: Stallworth, who has had two different stints with the Patriots (including last year, which consisted of one catch, which ended up going 63 yards for a touchdown against the Texans before he went on season-ending IR), was involved in a hot-air balloon accident earlier this month in Florida. While he has spent some time in the hospital, if the 32-year-old is still able to play come the summer, it wouldn’t be a surprise if New England at least kicked the tires on Stallworth to see if he still had anything left in the tank.

And when it comes to free agent possibilities, it’s fair to include restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, who would cost the Patriots a third-round pick but still interests the New England brain trust for all the reasons we listed here. The 26-year-old Sanders, a third-round pick out of SMU in 2010 by the Steelers, caught 44 passes for 626 yards and one touchdown in 2012, starting seven games. In his three-year career, Sanders has 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns.

Read More: Andre Holmes, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Amendola, Donald Jones
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