In Patriots passing game, big targets don’t always equal big success
|01.22.14 at 1:53 pm ET|
In the wake of Sunday’s playoff loss to the Broncos, one of the more common complaints regarding the state of the Patriots passing game was the fact that New England was lacking big targets. With only Julian Edelman (5-foot-10) and Shane Vereen (5-8) emerging as dependable targets for the Patriots — while the Broncos were having success with big targets like Demaryius Thomas (6-3) and Julius Thomas (6-5) — the contrast was especially jarring.
When it comes to the need for bigger receivers, it’s something we’ve heard several times over the last year, especially since Rob Gronkowski went down with a season-ending knee injury in December. However, it’s important to remember that the Patriots have tried to go big at the skill positions in the past. In the offseason, the Patriots went out and signed Mike Jenkins (6-4), Donald Jones (6-0), LaVelle Hawkins (5-11) and Danny Amendola (5-11). In addition, they added rookies like Aaron Dobson (6-3), Mark Harrison (6-3), Kenbrell Thompkins (6-0) and Josh Boyce (5-11). The addition of so much height was in direct contrast to the fact that they lost Wes Welker (5-9) and Deion Branch (5-9), as well as running back Danny Woodhead (5-8).
For what it’s worth, in the Patriots passing game size doesn’t always equate to success. The two greatest receivers of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era — Welker and Troy Brown — were undersized targets who made a habit of being great route-runners who knew exactly what the quarterback needed. Branch also shared an uncanny bond with Brady, and Edelman’s 105-catch season in 2013 came as the result of the receiver developing a bond with Brady and showing his dependability over the course of a 16-game season. (And conversely, some of the bigger receivers the Patriots have acquired over the last dozen or so years — Donald Hayes, Chad Jackson and P.K. Sam, all of whom were 6-foot-1 or taller — flamed out, sometimes in spectacular fashion.)
Ultimately, the return of the 6-foot-5 Gronkowski and the continued maturation of Dobson and the rest of the young pass catchers should provide the Patriots with some sizable targets in the passing game come 2014. But as Edelman showed in 2013 — as well as Brown and Welker before him — when it comes to finding success as a pass-catcher in the New England system, size isn’t everything.