Despite suffering a torn ACL at the end of the 2009 season, the devastating injury didn’t prevent Wes Welker from making an impact in 2010.
The diminutive but big-hearted slot machine worked tirelessly in rehab and didn’t miss a single game in 2010, leading the team with 86 catches and 848 yards.
Even without Randy Moss in the lineup, Welker continued to produce at a high level, including a five-week stretch where he averaged at least five catches and 11 yards per catch toward the end of the season.
Once Moss left, the Pats decided to bring back a familiar face in Super Bowl hero Deion Branch. While Branch’s departure in 2006 left a bitter taste around the organization, he was welcomed back and definitely outperformed expectations.
Although he had been injury prone in Seattle over the past four seasons, Branch tallied 48 catches for 706 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games with New England.
While it certainly was great to see good production from Branch and Welker, both are aging receivers who have had knee troubles and are in the final year of their contracts. Typically, these players would probably not get another contract from the Pats, but with the uncertainty of the receiving corps, Welker could be brought back.Besides the reliable Branch/Welker duo, the Pats do have a few young wideouts with some upside.
Perhaps the biggest question mark, and potential long-term answer, is 2010 third-rounder Taylor Price.
The former Ohio standout basically redshirted last season, but brings prototypical size (6-foot, 212 pounds) and speed (4.40).
If Price is able to earn some playing time, he certainly projects as a solid No. 2 receiver who can use his speed and size to get down field.
On the other hand, 2009 third-round pick Brandon Tate has had opportunities to earn more playing time, yet he still is an enigma.
The talented former Tar Heel has been a stud kick returner, but a frustratingly inconsistent receiver.
He has the speed to be a deep threat, but is a poor route runner and does not catch the ball consistently.
At this point, Tate will have to make a big jump to earn more time on offense, but may be relegated to return duties.
The last player who may have a role in the offense is Julian Edelman.
After a promising rookie season where he worked as a slot receiver, Edelman seemed to take a step back in his second year.
His reception total dropped from 37 to seven and he didn’t catch a single touchdown.
However, like Tate, he is an asset in the return game as he recorded a 15.3-yard average on punt returns.
If Edelman can become more consistent with his hands, he has the potential to replace Welker in 2012 if he isn’t re-signed.
Overall, this receiving corps is solid, but nowhere near the threat it was in 2007-2009. It will take a big jump from the trio of Price/Tate/Edelman for it to take off to the next level.
State of the Position Grade: B-