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Position Preview: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

As long as they stay healthy and have Tom Bradythrowing them the ball, the Patriots have one of the most explosive receiving corps in the game.

Back after a record-shattering 2007 campaign are playmaking wide receiver Randy Mossand unstoppable slot machine Wes Welker.

Brady set career bests across the board with the bulk of the throws going to Moss and Welker. Moss finished with an NFL-record 23 touchdown receptions to go along with 98 receptions for 1,493 yards to make everyone forget his previously dismal days of late in Oakland.

Welker – whose previous three-year career-highs of 67 receptions and one score came in Miami in 2006 – became a virtually unstoppable option out of the slot to the tune of a franchise-record 112 receptions (tying for the NFL lead) for a total of 1,1175 yards and eight touchdowns. He added another 27 receptions in three postseason games.

If there's a question about this group of receivers, it has to be third-year player Chad Jackson.

After two disappointing, injury-slowed seasons, the former second-round pick out of Florida will be given every opportunity to win the number-two spot opposite Moss, a spot left vacant by the free agent departure of Donte' Stallworthto Cleveland. Jackson took plenty of spring reps working with Brady alongside Moss and Welker in the projected first unit.

But let's not forget about Jabar Gaffney, who also re-signed with New England this offseaon. Gaffney has proven to be a comfortable option for Brady the past two seasons, and he'll likely continue to get better as the third or fourth option (if Jackson lives up to expectations). If need be, Gaffney could also conceivably step into the starting lineup.

Special teams ace Kelley Washingtonis the next most experienced target on the depth chart. He returns to the Pats after not catching a single pass in his first season in New England a year ago, but the big-bodied former Bengals third-round pick could be another option to help pick up the receiving slack.

Other players for roster spots at receiver include former Bills free agent addition and primary special teamer Sam Aiken, journeyman C.J. Jones, first-year player Robert Ortizand projected special teams draft pick Matthew Slater.

The tight end position, meanwhile, also has some intrigue this summer. Incumbent starter Benjamin Watsonhas proven a capable contributor when healthy. He caught 36 passes with six scores last fall, but missed four-plus games with an ankle injury. He enters camp recovering from offseason surgery on that ankle.

Third-year pro David Thomasis also coming back from injury, a broken foot that ended his sophomore season. He's proven he can catch, but admits he needs to improve his blocking to become a more effective tight end.

Veteran free agent Marcus Pollardis nearing the end of the line in his 14th seasons, but he's showed impressive route running out of the slot this spring in workouts and could be an intriguing weapon if he can rekindle his playmaking ways with Brady that he once enjoyed with Peyton Manning.

Younger veteran Stephen Spachmight be able to earn a roster spot as a predominantly blocking tight end, while rookie free agent Jonathan Stuparwill also be in the mix for one of the Patriots few roster spots at the position.

WRs/TEs – At a glance

Key Additions:
WR Sam Aiken (FA, Buffalo), TE Marcus Pollard (FA, Seattle)

Losses:
TE Kyle Brady (released), WR Donte' Stallworth (FA, Cleveland)

Roster:
NO. PLAYER (POS., YEAR)
88 Sam Aiken (WR, 6th year)
10 Jabar Gaffney (WR, 7th year)
17 Chad Jackson (WR, 3rd year)
19 C.J. Jones (WR, 2nd year)
81 Randy Moss (WR, 11th year)
14 Robert Ortiz (WR, 1st year)
87 Marcus Pollard (TE, 14th year)
18 Matthew Slater (WR, rookie)
82 Stephen Spach (TE, 3rd year)
85 Jonathan Stupar (TE, rookie)
86 David Thomas (TE, 3rd year)
15 Kelley Washington (WR, 6th year)
84 Benjamin Watson (TE, 5th year)
83 Wes Welker (WR, 5th year)

Training camp storyline:
Is a healthy Chad Jackson finally ready to assume a contributing role in the Patriots offensive cast of playmakers?

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