Who is the odd man out at wide receiver?
That is one important question that Bill Belichick and the rest of his staff will be asking themselves when the time comes to start cutting down to the 53-man roster at the end of training camp. Even with the retooled secondary, running back competition, backup quarterback controversy and Gronk-health guesswork, the Pats’ stable of pass catchers is one of the more intriguing storylines on the team halfway through the preseason.
So let’s dive in, shall we?
“Pygmies” Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are both locks to make the team, bringing solid hands, shiftiness and toughness to the position. Offseason acquisition Brandon LaFell has been making his fair share of eye-popping plays in camp. And as Tom Brady said, the young ex-Panther has size that was sorely missing from last year’s squad. Hopefully that means we’ll be back to seeing some classic Brady “bombs-away” offense in 2014.
While those three are interesting talents, it’s the bottom of the depth chart where things start to heat up. Remember last year’s trio of rookie receivers, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce? Between injuries and inconsistency, all three gave the production that would be expected from one player. Thompkins was the touchdown maker in the early going of 2013, while Dobson took his place as Brady’s go-to outside receiver towards the end (Boyce flashed his skill mainly on special teams). Since the world of the NFL has an attention span and memory of a goldfish, many “experts” believed that Dobson would be the breakout receiver for the Pats in 2014, given his strong finish last year. However, Dobson hasn’t been on the field, only just recently being taken off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Meanwhile, Thompkins has been a one-man highlight reel in training camp and has been earning nothing but high praise from the coaching staff and his future Hall-of-Fame quarterback (The two connected on a nice touchdown in Friday’s preseason bout with the Eagles).
So let’s say that Thompkins takes the fourth receiver slot, and Pro-Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater grabs the fifth. Most teams usually don’t carry more than six wideouts with them on the final roster. That leaves Dobson, Boyce, and preseason MVP Brian Tyms. Tyms, a second-year man who missed 2013 to injury, has been the best wide receiver on the field in two preseason games so far, but will be suspended for the first four games of 2014. If I were a gambling man, I’d say that Belichick probably won’t reward him with a roster spot. Though he is coming off a serious foot injury, look for Dobson to nab that last receiver spot. He was a great player last year when he was healthy and clearly had a rapport with Brady.
Things are far from decided, and in the NFL things can do a complete 180 in the blink of an eye. My advice, keep an eye on the play of Thompkins and Tyms in the next, and most important, preseason game. Thompkins will most definitely continue to make plays and ensure a spot on the final 53-man roster. If Tyms plays well enough, he could hang around on the practice squad and be called up later in the season should anyone go down with injury. Like I said, wide receiver is shaping up to be the most competitive position on the team.
Who do you think will make it?
Follow Eric Pfalzgraf at @Eric_Pfalzgraf
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