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NFL Draft Prospects: Revitalizing Patriots’ Passing Attack

Tom Brady

Despite finishing the regular season with a 12-4 record and making it to the AFC Championship game, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots veered from their otherwise routinely brilliant passing attack.

Tom BradyDespite finishing the regular season with a 12-4 record and making it to the AFC Championship game, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots veered from their otherwise routinely brilliant passing attack.

Divvying up blame isn’t all that challenging and Brady’s numbers for the 2013 season provide enough evidence to carelessly point the finger. Finishing behind guys like Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger and Nick Foles, Brady’s fantasy production certainly doesn’t do him any favors – nor does his fewest number of touchdowns since 2009, his lowest completion percentage since 2003 and his first sub-90 quarterback rating in over five seasons.

Let’s not let the frustration stemming from a disappointing fantasy season get the best of us. Brady didn’t fall off a cliff and all of sudden stop being a Hall of Fame quarterback. Although, he’s been able to work wonders in the past with fantasy wanderers like Troy Brown and Deion Branch – while also making fantasy studs out of no-names like Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead – Brady received little to no help from his receivers or offensive line this season, thus taking some life out of the wand he typically waves… even magicians need sidekicks.

Behind a less than stellar offensive line, Brady was sacked 40 times in 2013 – the most dirt he’s seen in one season since 2001. Add that to the fact that Aaron Hernandez was imprisoned, Rob Gronkowski battled the injury bug and free agent acquisition Danny Amendola was just as durable as everyone predicted he’d be and Brady was left with a second-round rookie in Aaron Dobson, an undrafted rookie in Kenbrell Thompkins and a slot receiver in Julian Edelman who had yet to catch more than 37 passes in a season.

Needless to say, Brady is still Brady. While he should still be considered a top-10 fantasy quarterback option, he may only be a 2014 draft class away from pushing his stock even higher.

In addition to upgrading their offensive line and improving Brady’s protection, the Pats should also focus on finding their 36-year-old quarterback a stud wide receiver in what appears to be a deep draft class for pass-catchers.

Although history tells us in horrific detail just how bad head coach Bill Belichick has been when it comes to drafting wideouts, he and the Patriots should have an easier road this season given the incoming class. Not to mention, it’d be the more fiscally responsible move for the Patriots considering a free agent market that’s underwhelming and more than likely overpriced.

New England Patriots 2013 Receiving Stats

NAME REC TAR YDS AVG TD LONG 20+ YDS/G
Julian Edelman 105 151 1056 10.1 6 44 9 66
Danny Amendola 54 83 633 11.7 2 57 8 52.8
Rob Gronkowski 39 67 592 15.2 4 50 10 84.6
Aaron Dobson 37 74 519 14 4 81 6 43.3
Kenbrell Thompkins 32 70 466 14.6 4 49 8 38.8
Shane Vereen 47 69 427 9.1 3 50 2 53.4
Brandon Bolden 21 29 152 7.2 0 18 0 12.7
Michael Hoomanawanui 12 19 136 11.3 1 19 0 10.5
Josh Boyce 9 19 121 13.4 0 30 3 13.4
Austin Collie 6 11 63 10.5 0 19 0 9
Stevan Ridley 10 12 62 6.2 0 24 1 4.4
James Develin 4 4 62 15.5 0 31 1 3.9
LeGarrette Blount 2 5 38 19 0 32 1 2.4
Matthew Mulligan 2 3 16 8 1 15 0 1.1

The Patriots can start off by assuming Julian Edelman does not comeback next season. He’s a soon-to-be 28-year-old pass-gobbler who happened to hit a contract year at the right time. Not only do the Patriots have a catch machine already in Amendola (when healthy), but allowing Wes Welker to walk last season after six productive years in New England is all the proof we need to realize Belichick isn’t overpaying for anything. Some other team will pay Edelman and he’ll walk.

With Edelman out, the Patriots would like to assume Gronkowski returns at full strength. While getting through an entire season fully healthy may be more of a prayer, in terms of planning for the draft, the Pats can only go off what they have. While there are a decent number of sizable targets in this year’s draft, freakish height isn’t necessarily a requirement. The Patriots used a second-rounder on the 6’3” Dobson last spring and Gronkowski isn’t pint-sized and Brady has found plenty of success with smaller-framed receivers.

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If the Patriots are going after value in this draft, then Belichick will use the team’s first-round selection on a position other than wideout, which in turn would mean names like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks and Marqise Lee are names the Patriots probably wouldn’t target anyway at No. 28. They would all be out of play, as well as guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin, both of whom are receiving first-round and early second-round grades. In such a case, the Patriots could make shoring-up their offensive line a first-round priority.

By the time they hit the clock again late in the second round, the Patriots are probably looking at guys like Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews and hopefully Davante Adams and Jarvis Landry – both of whom are studs waiting to breakout at the next level and possible good fits in New England.

At 6’2” and 216 pounds, Davante Adams has incredible physical tools, which all play a role in his game. His athleticism makes for great body control and vertical leap, giving him the ability to make tough catches in contested situations. His strength and vision allow for Adams to earn yards after the catch, demonstrating the ability to take a shallow drag and turn it into a 30-yard gain. His experience in a wide-open offense at Fresno State has groomed him as a route-runner, which would provide Brady with a reliable set of hands.

Jarvis Landry, on the other hand, doesn’t possess the same physical tools as Adams, but offers elite talent in other areas. Coming in right around an ordinary 6’0” and 195 pounds, Landry is a natural football player, with great instincts and awareness, as well as the gritty attitude that makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses. What he lacks in terms of height, length and strength, Landry makes up for it with deceiving athleticism, unmatched toughness, superior work ethic and a great set of reliable hands. He’d fit perfectly into the mold of what Belichick seeks in his players.

If Belichick decides to hold off past the second round, then he’d be required to make a move in either the third or fourth, as the Patriots don’t have a fifth-rounder after trading it to the Eagles last October for Isaac Sopoaga and a sixth-round pick. That then would leave little to select from in the final two rounds on Day 3.

In the third round, you might hear names like Martavis Bryant, Paul Richardson or even Jared Abbrederis, but pay closer attention if you hear about Donte Moncrief or Brandon Coleman.

Donte MoncriefDonte Moncrief is a 6’3” and 226-pound receiver out of Ole Miss who packs a strong, sizable frame behind sneaky speed and a pair of reliable hands. Although his athleticism doesn’t pop like that of others, Moncrief has valuable experience stemming from the best conference in the country and he can execute every route he’s asked to run.

As for Coleman, he receives an automatic page-marker given Belichick’s knack for drafting guys out of Rutgers, but Coleman earns his own praise too. Thanks to a can’t-miss 6’6”, 220-pound frame and the strong hands, he’s a mismatch for opposing defensive backs on nearly every play. While he doesn’t possess great explosiveness off the line, Coleman does have sufficient speed to get behind a defense and he knows how to use his body to his advantage, whether it’s during his route or hauling in the football.

Finally, don’t forget about the possibility of Belichick adding a big man to reinforce the receiving end of Brady’s passes. Although this year’s crop of tight ends isn’t nearly as deep as that of the receivers, a guy like Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro could be available late in the first, and massive targets like Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz could be hanging around late in the second, all of whom would help fill the void left by Hernandez last season.

Bottom line: Tom Brady and the Patriots will get their offense back on track. It’s no surprise Brady’s best statistical seasons have come when he’s suffered 25 sacks or less, so helping to plug some holes in pass protection would help drastically. Combine that with a healthy return of Brady’s most trusted pass-catcher in Rob Gronkowksi, add in a rookie who can contribute in early September and it’ll feel like Tom never left.

Don’t let 2013 get in the way of how efficient and carefree it is having Tom Brady as your starting quarterback. Be patient, stay the course and play the odds.

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