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Bye-week breakdown: Wide receivers

11.07.13 at 5:42 pm ET
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Aaron Dobson had a rough start, but has shown improvement over the last few weeks. (AP)

Aaron Dobson had a rough start, but has shown improvement over the last few weeks. (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 a look at the special teamers. Now, it’s the wide receivers:

Overview: This was the position that had the most question marks going into the season: How would the Patriots replace the production of Wes Welker? Could Danny Amendola stay healthy? How fast could the rookies get acclimated to the system? While there’s still plenty of uncertainty about this position, things are starting to come into a clearer focus nine games into the season.

Amendola’s production has fluctuated depending on his health — when he’s been on the field consistently, he’s been every bit the receiver the Patriots hoped he would be, and was extremely impressive in the opener against the Bills as he gutted his way through the win despite a groin injury. (In the win over the Steelers, he appeared to benefit the most from the return of Rob Gronkowski, as he was wide open on his first two receptions, one of which went for his first touchdown as a member of the Patriots.) Julian Edelman has carried the passing game on several occasions, and while his production has dropped off as of late, it’s worth mentioning that his numbers over the first month of the season were comparable with Welker.

As for the rookies, there were plenty of bad drops and confusion early on. At least in the case of Aaron Dobson, there seems to be real improvement across the board — he was on the receiving end of one of the best connections all season late in the win over the Steelers when he and Tom Brady hooked up on an 81-yard touchdown reception. While Kenbrell Thompkins started strong, he may have taken a step back in recent weeks — he took his first healthy scratch last week against Pittbsurgh. And Josh Boyce appears headed for a redshirt year. (Although it stands to reason that Thompkins and Boyce — as well as LaQuan Williams, who was picked up late in the week — could stand to benefit when it comes to playing time from the recent release of veteran receiver Austin Collie.)

Roster: Dobson (31 catches, 454 yards, 4 TDs), Amendola (23-296-1), Edelman (49-473-2), Thompkins (23-334-4), Josh Boyce (1-24), Matthew Slater, LaQuan Williams.

Best moment: We’ll go with three: One, Amendola’s performance in the season-opener against the Bills when he singlehandedly kept a late New England drive alive with several big catches down the stretch, despite the fact that he was suffering from a groin injury. Two, Dobson’s five-catch, 130-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Steelers, which included an 81-yard scoring strike from the quarterback. And three, Thompkins fourth-quarter touchdown catch allowed New England to upend New Orleans.

Worst moment: Dobson’s three ugly drops in the first game against the Jets were likely the low point for the New England receiving corps over the first nine games of the season.

By the numbers: Dobson is on pace to shatter the mark for receptions by a rookie wide receiver under Tom Brady. The standard was set by Deion Branch in 2002, who had 43 catches, 489 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. Provided he stays healthy the rest of the season (he was sidelined for the opener because of a hamstring problem), Dobson is on pace for a 58-851-8 line over the course of a 15-game season. (For what it’s worth, Dobson and Thompkins have combined for 14 drops through the first nine games.)

Money quote: “Aaron has grown since the time he got here, and his caliber of play and his level of execution, his understanding of our offense has gone up significantly. He has a big role in our offense and we count on him to make the plays when his number is called. He made a bunch of them last week. He has to go do it again. At this point in the year, they’re not rookies anymore. They know what to expect, they’ve been through it and they have to go out and execute it.” — Brady on Dobson and the rest of the rookie receivers, Oct. 30.

Read More: bye week breakdown,
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