Confidence game: Measuring Tom Brady’s comfort level with his pass-catchers
|08.20.13 at 7:15 am ET|
‘By mid-training camp, we should know who I’m most comfortable throwing to.’ — Tom Brady on WEEI, May 23, 2012
We covered Brady’s amazing preseason, made all the more impressive by the fact that he’s doing it (mostly) with a group of all new pass-catchers. On Monday, he talked a little about their progression, as well as the fact that they have gotten a ton of opportunities this summer.
‘Much more opportunity than some guys get in certain years when you have a lot of veteran players at certain positions,’ Brady said. ‘[But] the more opportunity, the better you get. They had a lot of opportunity the other night, [Kenbrell Thompkins] and Aaron [Dobson] and Josh [Boyce] at the receiver position, with Danny [Amendola], what Julian [Edelman]’s been able to do coming back from his injury, and [Zach] Sudfeld — he’s had a lot of opportunity. Guys are trying to make the most of it.’
Ultimately, when you’re talking about the relationship between Brady and the new options in the passing game, it all comes down to comfort and chemistry. And so, armed with that statement he made this past spring on WEEI — and at the midway point of the preseason — here’s a confidence/comfort check when it comes to Brady and his pass-catchers. We’ll rate each of the skill position players and their relationship with Brady on a scale of 0 (Taylor Price) to 100 (Wes Welker).
RB Shane Vereen: 85. Vereen, who is heading into his third season with the Patriots, has an excellent shot at becoming a multidimensional breakout star in this offense. He will not only be asked to pick up some of the slack left by the departure of Danny Woodhead, he also will figure into New England‘s overall plans when it comes to replicating the work of Welker and Aaron Hernandez in the passing game. He’s certainly off to a good start — he’s touched the ball 13 times in two preseason games and come away with 105 yards from scrimmage — a whopping average of eight yards per attempt. (That includes four catches for 46 yards on Friday against the Bucs.)
WR Danny Amendola: 82. Amendola has far and away been the best receiver in camp, and has displayed a really nice connection with the quarterback over the course of the summer. It’s not fair to compare the Brady-Amendola relationship to the QB’s history with Welker, but it certainly appears to be on its way. Amendola had six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown on Friday against the Bucs, with the score coming on an artfully executed 26-yarder that looked an awful lot like a route run by old No. 83.
WR Julian Edelman: 72. The veteran — the only receiver on the roster who caught a pass from Brady last season — certainly scores points when it comes to continuity and familiarity. He’s been working with the No. 2 offense for much of the summer but has already displayed a nice chemistry with both Brady and Ryan Mallett, and he leads all pass-catchers who have been targeted at least five times this summer with a 78 percent catch rate (seven catches on nine targets). He’s likely a backup to Amendola, and also figures to work as a return man.
TE Zach Sudfeld: 67. While he still needs some work as a blocker, the rookie tight end continues to impress as a pass-catcher. He’s had several big moments over the course of the summer, but he had two of his best moments Friday against the Bucs. One, he caught a two-point conversion from Brady, and two, he came away with a touchdown pass from Mallett. On the PAT, he showed why he should be a great red zone target, coming away with the reception despite the fact that he drew double coverage. Again, if he shows improvement as a blocker, there’s no reason to think he won’t be on the field to start the season.
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 64. The rookie out of Cincinnati has been the most consistent first-year receiver through the first half of camp. That’s not to say there haven’t been some forgettable moments, but he should make the roster, and has a very good shot at being the No. 2 receiver in the offense if he continues progressing in the right direction. While the preseason is for trying out some new things and seeing if rookies can handle an NFL workload, it’s interesting to see that through two games, he’s tied for third on the team with nine targets.
WR Aaron Dobson: 60. Dobson had a great start to camp, and he continues to flash a unique set of skills, particularly when it comes to going up and competing for a ball at the highest point — he’s got strong hands, and can outwrestle a defender for position when needed. His basketball skills allow him to use his body in a way few other New England receivers have done in the past, and he’s been able to do a pretty good job getting separation. At least right now, he appears to be slotted in at the No. 3 receiver spot behind Amendola and Thompkins, but a series of good, consistent performances over the last two weeks of the preseason could bump him back up the depth chart to No. 2. (Interesting that he leads the team in targets through the first two games of the preseason with 13. And according to Pro Football Focus, he leads all New England skill position players in snaps through two preseason games with 82.)
WR Josh Boyce: 55. The fourth-round pick out of TCU hasn’t spent a lot of time running with the starting offense, and so the relatively low number is more the result of just not having as much time with Brady as the rest of the pass-catchers. When he’s been targeted, he’s done well, but at this point in the summer, he appears slotted in as the fourth receiver.
TE Jake Ballard: Incomplete. The veteran tight end has slowly been working his way back from a knee injury that caused him to spend all of the 2012 season on the shelf. He hasn’t been targeted once this preseason by Brady or any of the other quarterbacks. It is worth mentioning that Bill Belichick has lauded Ballard’s work as a blocker, which should be good enough to get him into the starting lineup on opening day, provided he stays healthy between now and then.
TE Daniel Fells: Incomplete. Throughout the summer, the veteran tight end has displayed a nice chemistry with Brady, building on a good season last year. However, he’s struggled to stay on the field over the last week-plus, and with the continued emergence of Sudfeld, his days could be numbered if the Patriots are looking to add at another position.
RB Stevan Ridley: Incomplete. While Ridley has shown an occasional ability to work as an option in the passing game out of the backfield, he will more than likely leave the bulk of that work to Vereen, as well as an occasional swing pass to Leon Washington and LeGarrette Blount.