With the third preseason game only days away, the constant battle to make the roster is winding down.
Unlike in years past where the Pats expected contributions from ineffective or injury-prone veterans (Fred Taylor, Joey Galloway, Sam Aiken), this year’s offense is loaded with skill position players.
With the addition of Chad Ochocinco (who admittedly hasn’t had a strong camp) to an already stacked receiving corps, the fight for the final spot comes down to two players: Brandon Tate and Taylor Price.
Both players were selected with third-round picks in 2009 and 2010, respectively, and have flashed the talent that made them second-day picks.
However, with Ochocinco, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Deion Branch as locks, there may not be enough room to keep both players on the final roster.
An elusive returner at North Carolina, Tate slipped in the ’09 draft due to a knee injury that knocked him out for most of his senior year. He has been a solid kick returner, scoring twice last season, but has been incredibly inconsistent as a receiver.
Despite being billed as a deep threat, Tate was only targeted 2.3 times per game, according to Pro Football Focus.
He did average 18 yards per catch, however he only recorded 24 receptions as the third receiver in this offense.
At this point, Tate would have to make significant strides as a route runner and pass catcher to earn a spot especially with the new kickoff rules negating his impact on special teams.
When it comes to Price, the rewards could be great.
The 6-foot, 200-pounder combines 4.4 speed with great hands, agility and balance. That potentially elite combination was on full display against the Jaguars when Price caught five passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.
The problem with Price is his lack of playing time in the Patriots’ sophisticated offense. After spending four years in Ohio’s run-first attack, he rarely saw the field in 2010, and will again have a hard time seeing the field with the veterans entrenched ahead of him.
However, if I had to pick one receiver to keep for both this season and longterm, it would be Price.
Prediction: Tate gets cut. Price enters as fifth receiver and possibly starting kick returner.