Much like 2007, the Patriots 2011 offense was utterly dominate.
However, it had a lot more to do with the tight ends than the trio of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth.
That year, the trio combined for 3,365 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Last season, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez posted 2,237 yards and 25 total TDs.
New England’s sophomore duo took the league by storm after solid rookie campaigns. Gronk turned into a superstar and Hernandez quietly entered the top-five concussion with his uncanny athleticism and after-the-catch abilities.
Except for the drop in the Super Bowl (and a big one at that), Welker had a monster season, racking up a career-high 1,569 yards and nine scores.
Yet, the utter failure of Chad Ochocinco to become the team’s deep threat, combined with the lack of development from Taylor Price forced the team to become too dependent on the short to intermediate passing game.
When Gronk was hobbled by a bum ankle in the Super Bowl, the lack of a deep threat became alarmingly apparent.
Armed with four of the first 64 picks, the Patriots absolutely need to address the wide receiver position. Although the team has a poor draft history (Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate, Price), it shouldn’t preclude Belichick and Co. from pulling the trigger on a talented wideout.
The Pats might need to assess their scouting perspective on college wideouts before selecting one early, but this has to be the year to add a legitimate weapon that can help in both the short and long term.
Let’s take a look at five potential Patriots.
1. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: While RG III won the Heisman, he wouldn’t have done so without the help of his star receiver. Undersized at 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, Wright dominated in 2011 because of his terrific speed, reliable hands and excellent change of direction skills. Despite his lack of height, he has the capability to be a Steve Smith type receiver at the next level because of his great explosion. If he blows up the combine, he should go in the top 20. His overall makeup seems like a great fit in New England, but they would have to move up to get him.
2. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: Floyd might be the best package of size and production outside of projected top-10 pick Justin Blackmon. The former five-star recruit had some off-field issues in South Bend, but seemed to repair his image as a senior. After a down junior year in which he seemed to play at a heavier weight, Floyd shed some pounds and responded with a 100/1,147/9 stat line. At 6-foot-3, 224 pounds, Floyd has the prototypical size of a No. 1 receiver, but there are some questions about his pure speed. If he runs anything under 4.55 at the combine, he should be drafted in the second half of the first round.
3. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU: In 2008, Randle signed with LSU as the nation’s top receiver. During his three years in Baton Rouge, he didn’t exactly light it up, but scouts feel his best football may be ahead of him. In his first two season, Randle caught 44 passes for 717 yards and five TDs before catching 53 balls for 917 yards and eight scores as a junior. Randle has great size (6’4, 208) and his 17.3 yards per catch average in 2011 suggests he has the speed to win on the outside at the NFL level. With a good combine, Randle could make his way into the final picks in the first round which makes him a solid target with the 31st pick.
4. Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas: Adams falls in line with the smaller, quicker mold of Patriots receivers of the past. The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder didn’t dominate as a receiver, but is more of an all-purpose threat. Coincidentally, Adams’ two best seasons with the Razorbacks were in 2009 and 2010…the two years Ryan Mallet was the starter. The lightning fast wideout is also a monster punt returner, scoring four times in 2011. He’s projected to be a second-day pick.
5. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers: We know Belichick loves Rutgers. Heck, he made Devin McCourty a first-round pick when most had him pegged as an early second rounder. Sanu is in a similar spot as a solid, productive collegiate player who was a leader. Former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said Sanu was, “The guy who does everything. He’ll be very hard to replace.” Sanu brings a solid blend of size (6’2, 215) with excellent hands and a wide catching radius. He’s strong and is regarded as a good blocker. His forty time will go a long way to determining whether he goes in the first round, but his work ethic and reliability make him a good fit in New England.