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Will bigger be better? Patriots size up changes at receiver, tight end

08.08.13 at 12:32 pm ET
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Since Bill Belichick took over the Patriots prior to the start of the 2000 season, oversized pass-catchers have been few and far between. But it certainly appears New England made a conscious choice to go bigger at the skill positions this offseason.

Consider the fact that they lost wide receivers Wes Welker (5-foot-9, 185 pounds), Deion Branch (5-9, 195) and Brandon Lloyd (6-0, 200), as well as running back Danny Woodhead (5-8, 200). That’s not to suggest that there was some grand plan to essentially discard some of those players and go bigger, particularly Welker. But when you stack the skill position players they lost against the ones they acquired in free agency and the draft, it’s hard not to notice the contrast.

We covered some of this in the spring, but in the wake of nearly two weeks of training camp, it’s certainly worth revisiting again, particularly in the wake of some impressive performances this summer from Danny Amendola (at 5-11 and 188 pounds, he’s taller than Welker, but not quite as stout), as well as rookie receivers Aaron Dobson (6-3, 210) and Zach Sudfeld (6-7, 255).

They signed free agent receivers Mike Jenkins (6-4, 214) and Amendola, and added Dobson and Josh Boyce (5-11, 206) via the draft. In addition, they added undrafted rookies Mark Harrison (6-3, 235) and Kenbrell Thompkins (6-0, 196). At the tight end spot, they signed Sudfeld and added veteran free agent running back LeGarrette Blount, who checks in at 6-foot, 247 pounds.

While there’s still some debate as to whether or not he’ll make the final 53-man roster, Jenkins is the first receiver in New England 6-foot-4 or taller since Randy Moss played three-plus seasons with the Patriots from 2007-2010. In addition to Moss, Donald Hayes (2002) and J.J. Stokes (2003) were the only New England receivers who were 6-foot-4 or taller since Belichick took over the Patriots. The same is true for 6-foot-3 receivers, as Dobson and P.K. Sam (taken in the fifth round of the 2004 draft) are the two tallest receivers the Patriots have drafted since Belichick’s arrival.

With the bigger targets, the question is whether or not size matters: in the case of Sam, Hayes and Stokes — who combined for 14 career catches in their brief tenure in New England — the answer was no. But if the summer workouts are any indication, Dobson could make it work, providing he stays healthy. It has been interesting to watch Dobson as he gets acclimated to the New England passing game. The Marshall product, who received scholarship offers to play college basketball, clearly knows how to use his body when it comes to competitive situations for balls in the air, showing proper positioning prior to the catch and excellent body control — fundamentally, knowing when to time his leap — as he ball comes down. According to reports, Dobson flashed those skills on Wednesday, as he managed to come down with a deep ball from Tom Brady in the middle of triple coverage.

Another pass-catcher who appears to know how to use his size to his advantage is Sudfeld. The big tight end out of Nevada doesn’t have Rob Gronkowski‘s red zone skills — when he sets up in the end zone, Gronkowski can look for all the world like Karl Malone on the block posting up a hapless defender. But Sudfeld’s size and massive catch radius can be utilized in a similar fashion. The 24-year-old rookie — who is somehow 26 days older than Gronkowski — has routinely made impressive catches while running with a reasonable facsimile of the starting offense through most of the first week-plus of camp.

The good receivers the Patriots have had in the past have all managed to excel in certain areas — route-running, separation, intelligence and versatility. While their New England careers are all still in their infancy, Brady likes what he sees from this group, no matter how big a target they might be able to present.

“I’€™m proud of all of those young players for coming in ‘€“ we’ve thrown a lot of stuff at them,” Brady said. “I said the other day that it’s not like we’re backing off because that’€™s not the way our offense is; we’ve got to keep putting the pressure on everybody, whether it’s Aaron or Josh or [Thompkins] or Zach Sudfeld. Everyone’€™s who’€™s out there is expected to go in there and execute at a pretty high level.”

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins
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