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Countdown to Patriots Camp: Wide receiver 07.24.12 at 8:46 pm ET
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In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’€™ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We’€™ve looked at quarterback, tight end and running back. Now, it’€™s the wide receivers:

Roster (2011 stats): Brandon Lloyd (70 catches, 966 yards, five touchdowns with Denver and St. Louis), Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns), Deion Branch (51 catches, 702 yards, five touchdowns), Jabar Gaffney (68 catches, 947 yards, five touchdowns with Washington), Donte Stallworth (22 catches, 309 yards, two touchdowns with Washington), Julian Edelman (four catches, 34 yards), Matthew Slater (one catch, 46 yards), Jeremy Ebert, Britt Davis, Jesse Holley (seven catches, 169 yards for Dallas).

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

Brandon Lloyd has the most unique skill set of any wide receiver that Tom Brady has ever worked with. We covered this back in the spring, but it bears repeating — Lloyd’€™s ability to work on both intermediate and deep routes, as well as his ability to compete for jump balls, make him a completely different receiver than anyone Brady has worked with. After getting the chance to throw to Lloyd on a regular basis in the spring, Brady bottom-lined it: ‘€œWe haven’€™t had anyone quite like him,’€ the quarterback said of Lloyd, who followed former offensive coordinator and head coach Josh McDaniels back to New England. (For more on their relationship and Lloyd’s potential impact, click HERE.)

Deion Branch doesn’€™t have the wheels that he used to, but his smarts, knowledge of the system and great working relationship with the quarterback should be enough to keep him in Foxboro for another year. The 33-year-old, who probably played more than he should have last season because of Chad Ochocinco‘€™s inadequacies, will still have a role in this passing game. And while shouldn’€™t have the same sort of production he had last year, there will be at least three occasions in 2012 where he comes up with a big play based solely on his background with Brady.

The acclimation process between Tom Brady and the new receivers should be a little easier than it was for No. 85 last season. You figure that with Gaffney and Stallworth already having spent time in the New England offense, the getting-to-know-you timetable should be minimal. As for Lloyd, he was asked this spring if he believes the Patriots system would be a difficult one to pick up. He responded with a quick, one-word answer: ‘€œNo.’€ OK then.

THREE QUESTIONS

Can Wes Welker ignore the noise? No Patriots’€™ player has had a more eventful six-month stretch than Welker. He had 122 catches last year, but ended the 2011 season glassy-eyed and teary after failing to come up with a Brady pass that would have likely closed out the Giants in the Super Bowl. Since that game, he’€™s been hit with the franchise tag, signed his tender, gone back and forth with the franchise about his contract, gotten married, endorsed adult diapers and revealed the most remarkable story involving Larry Izzo you will ever hear. He starts the 2012 season under the microscope — without a long-term deal, there will be speculation that he’€™s starting his final year in New England. However, Welker’€™s track record indicates that he should be able to block out the distractions and focus on the task at hand. Provided he stays healthy, look for another 100-plus catch season from the slot machine.

How many wide receivers can one team carry? Right now, it looks like six or seven, depending on what they want to do with Donte Stallworth: Lloyd, Welker, Gaffney, Edelman, Slater and Branch, with Ebert, Davis and Holley all practice squad possibilities. To his credit, Stallworth spent time this spring working as a returner on special teams, ostensibly to try and increase his overall value to the team. But right now, he would appear to face an uphill battle in a fight for a roster spot.

Why has this team had trouble developing young wide receivers? It’€™s more of a big picture question (perhaps best answered another day), but when you’€™re talking about wide receivers, it’€™s worth mentioning once again that the Patriots haven’€™t been able to develop a young wide receiver since the Deion Branch/David Givens combo nearly 10 years ago. Since then, they’€™ve relied on imports like Welker, Moss, Gaffney and Lloyd … and Ochocinco, Galloway and Donald Hayes. The veterans have been good enough to keep the passing game humming — and maybe the Patriots have found something with their younger receivers Ebert, Davis and Holley — but for a team that’€™s enjoyed so much success in player development in so many other areas (they turn JAGs into starting offensive linemen on an annual basis), it’€™s an odd anomaly.

By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: Wes Welker’€™s passes dropped (including postseason): 2008 — 3; 2009 — 13; 2010 — 14; 2011 — 15.

The skinny: As we discussed earlier, while the passing game might not reach 2007 levels, they might not be far off. And while the tight ends have emerged as a potent force for Brady, the receiving corps is deep, smart and filled with the sort of veterans you can build an offense around. (‘€œThis group that I’€™m working with, they’€™re as professional and as good a group as I’€™ve ever been around,’€ Patriots wide receiver coach Chad O’€™Shea said this spring.) Lloyd appears poised for a monster year, while there’€™s no reason to think Welker won’€™t have a typical Welkeresque season. Gaffney is as underrated as they come, and Branch remains a steady and reliable presence for Brady. They may be getting a little older, but there’€™s no reason to think that this group of receivers won’€™t be one of the best in the league statistically when the season is done.

Read More: Brandon Lloyd, Britt Davis, Chad O'Shea, Chad Ochocinco
Three is the magic number: Old friend Jabar Gaffney happy to be back in New England 06.07.12 at 8:18 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Over the last year or so, both Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick waxed nostalgically about what Jabar Gaffney brought to the table when he was in New England between 2006 and 2008: solid, smart and utterly dependable, the Patriots have has enjoyed success in the passing game since he left, but never could replace Gaffney as a No. 3 receiver.

So when the opportunity to pick him up again came around this offseason, the idea of Gaffney back with the Patriots almost made too much sense, to both New England and Gaffney.

‘€œYou go other places and you realize what you had, what you had here with coach Belichick,’€ Gaffney said after Thursday’€™s OTA session in Foxboro. ‘€œHe’€™s a one of a kind coach, and coming back here, he reminded me of that real quick.’€

Gaffney was cut loose by the Redskins earlier this spring — he called it a ‘€œshocker,’€ especially after he finished the 2011 season with career-highs in catches (68) and yards (947) with Washington — but said that when it came to finding a new place to play, there wasn’€™t much of a debate.

‘€œIt’€™s one of the only places I’€™d like to be,’€ Gaffney said. ‘€œI loved it here during my time and when I got cut and [the Patriots] called and Coach Belichick called and told me that we could work it out. This is where I wanted to be.’€

Considering his experience in New England, it’€™s no surprise the 31-year-old was anxious to return. Gaffney caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons with the Patriots, and provided depth as the No. 3 receiver. While others struggled in that role (Joey Galloway, Chad Ochocinco), Gaffney was able to flourish, and became the best and most consistent pass-catcher the Patriots have had at that spot since Brady assumed the starting quarterback job in 2001.

Back in his familiar No. 10 with the Patriots, he said Thursday he’€™s a different guy than the one who left New England following the 2008 season — both on and off the field.

‘€œ[I’€™ve] grown up a little bit more. Learned a lot more about football — the more you play, the more you learn,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™ve been able to put what I’€™ve learned in other places and bring it back here and hopefully, it can turn into a lot of success here as well.’€
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Five years later, Donte Stallworth ready for his second stint in New England 05.15.12 at 1:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A little older and a little wiser, wide receiver Donte Stallworth is ready for his second act with the Patriots.

The well-traveled Stallworth, who spent the 2007 season in New England before leaving as a free agent, jumped at the opportunity to return to the Patriots, signing a one-year deal as a free agent in March. It was a chance to not only go back to the scene of some of his greatest professional success, but to do so with an increased wisdom, one he confessed he didn’€™t necessarily have in his first go-round with New England.

‘€œI’€™m a lot more mature now than I was then,’€ Stallworth said Tuesday during a break between workouts at Gillette Stadium. ‘€œI feel like I’€™m playing better. I’€™m in a better place mentally, physically and I just felt like at that time I was still trying to mature and grow into a professional athlete. I feel like I’€™m a lot further down the road than I was last time.

‘€œBack then, I was really more relying on my talent,’€ said the 6-foot, 220-pounder. ‘€œNow that I’€™m going into my 10th year, I think I run better routes now and understand different coverages and what teams are trying to do.’€

The 31-year-old Stallworth, who had 46 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns with the Patriots in 2007, said a large portion of that increased off-field maturity is because of what he went through in 2009 when he was charged with DUI manslaughter following an accident in Florida. He spent time in jail, and was suspended for the duration of the 2009 season.

‘€œThe year I was out and just sitting around and watching my teammates play and watching my friends play, it was not a good feeling,’€ Stallworth said. ‘€œIt’€™s the same, even when you’€™re hurt. Guys never want to miss games. Anytime you miss something that you appreciate in life or that you love in life, if you have an opportunity to get it back, you always have a better appreciate for it next time.’€

Stallworth said that after spending time with the Browns (2008), Ravens (2010) and Redskins (2011), walking back into the New England locker room was an ‘€œinteresting’€ experience.

‘€œIt was a little weird feeling. It was kind of surreal,’€ he said. ‘€œBut honestly, I think it took about a week or so to get adjusted and to really realize that, hey, I really am back; it’€™s not just a dream. It’€™s been good being back and seeing a lot of the same, familiar faces — friendly faces. So it’€™s been good. It’€™s been five years, but not much has changed other than all the restaurants and stuff around here. That’€™s a big difference.’€

Stallworth enters a crowded field at wide receiver — the Patriots have loaded up this offseason at a position they were already pretty well stocked coming off the 2011 season. Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Lloyd join a group that includes Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Britt Davis, Matthew Slater and Chad Ochocinco.

‘€œIt’€™s going to be good competition; we’€™re all friends, we all have known each other for awhile and respected each other’€™s games, so we’€™re going to make each other better,’€ Stallworth said. ‘€œWe’€™ve been doing that now, with the workouts and really having fun, and the real fun gets to start on Monday when we start practicing. Who knows how it will play out, but I’€™m feeling good; I’€™m feeling healthy.’€

Here are some more highlights of Stallworth’€™s Q&A with the media:
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Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd, Britt Davis, Chad Ochocinco
What the return of Jabar Gaffney means for the Patriots’ passing game 05.02.12 at 11:02 pm ET
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With the news the Patriots are ready to bring wide receiver Jabar Gaffney back into the fold, it gives the New England passing game another familiar face and brings one of the most dependable No. 3 receivers the Patriots have had in nearly 10 years back to Gillette Stadium.

The 31-year-old, who played in New England from 2006 through 2008, caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons for the Patriots while operating almost exclusively as the No. 3 receiver in the New England passing game. While others struggled in that role, Gaffney was able to flourish, and became the best and most consistent pass-catcher the Patriots have had at that spot since Brady assumed the starting quarterback job in 2001.

It was also clear that even though he departed New England for Denver following the 2008 season, he maintained a great affection for the Patriots and Bill Belichick. In the days leading up to the New England-Washington game this past season, it was clear that Gaffney still had a great affection for Belichick and the Patriots.

‘€œIt was the best,’€ Gaffney said. ‘€œHe pretty much ‘€¦ he gave me a lot of insight on the NFL. A great coach. He makes his players be students of the game. He helped me out a lot. He’€™s the man.

‘€œI’€™ll never forget what I learned there, playing under Belichick. Like I said, he taught me a lot about the NFL and how to survive in the NFL and how to be a great player.’€

‘€œJab could do everything well,’€ recalled quarterback Tom Brady the week before the Patriots met the Redskins earlier this year. ‘€œI think that’€™s his versatility, he’€™s got good size, he’€™s got long arms, he’€™s got good speed, he’€™s got good quickness, he plays every position, he’€™s smart.

‘€œHe’€™s just one of those guys that, from the day we got him here, he was just so reliable and dependable because he knew what to do and he did it well. You gain a lot of trust from the quarterback when all those things match up. I was bummed when he went to Denver, and I was bummed when he went to Washington.’€

Gaffney should still be able to have an impact on the New England passing game. He is coming off the finest year of his career, as he finished the 2011 season with career-highs in catches (68) and yards (947), and tied his career-best with five touchdown receptions, all for a Washington passing game that finished in the middle of the league in most major statistical categories. The fact that he can still get up and down the field at a good rate, his previous knowledge of the offense and his excellent rapport with Brady all figure to make him a favorite to make the final roster.

However, it was already a crowded field before the Patriots made their bid to bring back Gaffney. Now, they have 11 receivers on the roster, not including seventh-round draft pick Jeremy Ebert: Gaffney, Wes Welker (presuming he signs his franchise tender), Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth, Anthony Gonzalez, Julian Edelman, Chad Ochocinco, Tiquan Underwood, Matthew Slater and Britt Davis. At least one veteran of note won’€™t make it to opening day.

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Could Jabar Gaffney find his way back to the Patriots? 04.18.12 at 1:54 pm ET
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Less than a week after his infamous Twitter rant — one that left him trending worldwide — Redskins wide receiver Jabar Gaffney told Washington’€™s 980 ESPN on Wednesday that the Redskins ‘€œare trying to trade me.’€

If Washington is indeed interested in dealing Gaffney, one possible destination could be the Patriots. The 31-year-old, who played in New England from 2006 through 2008, still has great affection for the Patriots. In the days leading up to the New England-Washington game this past season, Gaffney reminisced fondly about his time with Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

‘€œIt was the best,’€ Gaffney said of his time playing for Belichick. ‘€œHe pretty much … he gave me a lot of insight on the NFL. A great coach. He makes his players be students of the game. He helped me out a lot. He’€™s the man.

‘€œI’€™ll never forget what I learned there, playing under Belichick. Like I said, he taught me a lot about the NFL and how to survive in the NFL and how to be a great player.’€

Those feelings were returned in kind by both Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

‘€œOf course, we know Jabar’€™s an excellent route-runner,’€ Belichick said of Gaffney. ‘€œHe’€™s a good receiver. He’€™s a very disciplined, dependable guy. He and (Santana) Moss do a good job for them on the outside. They do a number of different things. They change their passing game around from week to week.

‘€œAnd Jabar, we know, is a real intelligent receiver and very instinctive and I’€™m sure he handles those things well for them, taking routes they haven’€™t really run before and putting them in for that game and then running them in a way that hurts the team they’€™re playing. That’€™s a big part of what they do, also.’€

‘€œJab could do everything well,’€ Brady recalled. ‘€œI think that’€™s his versatility, he’€™s got good size, he’€™s got long arms, he’€™s got good speed, he’€™s got good quickness, he plays every position, he’€™s smart.

‘€œHe’€™s just one of those guys that, from the day we got him here, he was just so reliable and dependable because he knew what to do and he did it well. You gain a lot of trust from the quarterback when all those things match up. I was bummed when he went to Denver, and I was bummed when he went to Washington.’€

New England has already brought in several new faces at wide receiver this offseason, including Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth, and wouldn’€™t likely offer the Redskins much in the way of a trade, seeing that Gaffney has gone public with the news that Washington is trying to deal him. (This report indicates that the Redskins could simply cut him loose after the draft.)

However, Gaffney’€™s experience in the Patriots’€™ system, Belichick’€™s good working relationship with Washington coach Mike Shanahan, Gaffney’€™s overall production while with New England (he caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons) and the fact that he’€™s been the best and most consistent No. 3 wide receiver that Brady has had since he assumed the starter’€™s job in 2001 could at least be enough to cause the Patriots to inquire about his services.

Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Bill Belichick, Brandon Lloyd, donte stallworth
What the addition of Brandon Lloyd means for the Patriots’ passing game 03.17.12 at 8:58 pm ET
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The addition of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd helps the Patriots’€™ passing game on a number of levels: it provides quarterback Tom Brady with another option outside the numbers, the receiving corps gets slightly younger, and it gives the New England offense something it has been missing since Jabar Gaffney left following the 2008 season ‘€” another pass catcher who is not a tight end who can be counted on for 50 or so receptions a season.

The 30-year-old Lloyd, who has averaged 74 catches a season the last two years, has been connected to the Patriots throughout the free agent process for several reasons, not the least of which included his well-known fondness for Josh McDaniels, the New England offensive coordinator who had worked with Lloyd in Denver and St. Louis.

McDaniels helped turn Lloyd the 6-foot, 188-pound receiver from a statistical JAG who never topped 30 receptions over the first seven seasons of his career into a stud who has averaged 74 catches a season the last two years. In all, with McDaniels as the St. Louis offensive coordinator, Lloyd had 51 catches for 683 yards and five touchdowns last year in 11 games with the Rams. That’€™s on the heels of 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 with Denver, a portion of which happened in McDaniels’€™ final season as head coach of the Broncos. (McDaniels coached 12 games that year in Denver.)

It’€™s not just as a deep threat — Lloyd represents a serious upgrade across the board for the New England passing game. Per the chart that was whipped up by Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus (left), Lloyd’€™s numbers in both the intermediate and deep routes the last two seasons are impressive, and will provide a serious boost to the Patriots’€™ offense.

Last season, the Patriots ran lots of sets with two tight ends and two receivers, and so with Lloyd in the fold, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots approach negotiations with veteran free agent wide receiver Deion Branch, another outside option. In addition, veteran Chad Ochocinco is another wideout who faces an uncertain future now that Lloyd is on the roster.

Regardless of what other personnel moves the club makes going forward, Lloyd projects as one of two outside receivers for the Patriots in 2012, and his ability as a deep threat will only serve to help fellow receivers Branch (if he does return) and Wes Welker (and if he is healthy, newcomer Anthony Gonzalez). Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez also figure to benefit on short and intermediate routes when it comes to the inclusion of Lloyd.

Read More: 2012 NFL Free Agency, Aaron Hernandez, Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd
Free Agent Snapshot: Brandon Lloyd 02.16.12 at 10:03 pm ET
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We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. With the understanding that the NFL’€™s franchise tag window is from February 20 to March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:

Brandon Lloyd
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 30
Height: 6-foot
Weight: 188 pounds

On the surface, this seems to be the best free-agent fit of the offseason for New England. Even if the Patriots do manage to retain veterans Wes Welker and Deion Branch in free agency, Lloyd would be that long-elusive offensive option New England has been missing since Jabar Gaffney left following the 2008 season — another pass catcher who is not a tight end who can get you 50 or so receptions a season.

The Patriots need to build some depth at the position, they have had trouble developing young receivers, and Lloyd is on record as saying he’€™d be willing to follow Josh McDaniels to the ends of the earth. McDaniels helped turned Lloyd from a JAG who never topped 30 receptions over the first seven seasons of his career into a stud who has averaged 74 catches a game the last two years. In all, with McDaniels as the St. Louis offensive coordinator, Lloyd had 51 catches for 683 yards and five touchdowns last year in 11 games with the Rams. That’€™s on the heels of 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 with Denver … a portion of which happened in McDaniels’€™ final season as head coach of the Broncos. (McDaniels coached 12 games that year in Denver.)

‘€œI can’€™t even lie about that,’€ Lloyd told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in late December when he was asked about McDaniels. ‘€œI’€™m tied to McDaniels. He uses me differently than other offensive coordinators used me in my entire career. He uses me as an every-play receiver. The short game, mid-range game, gimmick passes, deep balls.

‘€œI do everything in this offense as opposed to other coordinators who would just run me off as the deep guy; run me off into double coverage and then say I’€™m not open. So I really like how Josh uses me within the offense. ‘€¦ I want to be used in ways where I feel comfortable and I can be successful and Josh knows how to do that.’€

Why it might not work: Historically, Lloyd’€™s agent Tom Condon doesn’€™t have the best working relationship with the Patriots, having initially drawn their ire when it came to the Ben Watson negotiations. And as was the case with Reggie Wayne, the market for receivers this offseason is a fluid one, with Wayne, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Marques Colston, Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Welker all on the market. Depending on how the market trends, this could be a good thing or bad thing for the Patriots. The Patriots could also choose to try and find a young receiver in the draft, as this year’€™s crop is considered to be better than average.

Read More: Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe
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