For the second straight season and just the third time in team history, the Patriots offense featured a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in 2008. That production came with inexperienced backup quarterback Matt Casselfilling in for the injuredTom Bradyin the first quarter of the first game of the year.
Yet there are many in Patriots Nation who believe the team could use some added depth at the wide receiver spot – and they would probably be right.
Randy Mossand Wes Welkerremain one of the league's most productive pass-catching tandems. Welker nearly matched his team record 112 catches in 2007, falling one shy of that mark in his encore campaign with New England. He caught 111 balls for 1,165 yards but managed just three touchdowns, down from the eight he caught a year ago.
Moss wasn't nearly the threat he was in the record-setting perfect season but he still finished with 69 receptions for 1,008 yards and 11 touchdowns. Those numbers fell way short on his previous season's work, but they still were quite impressive.
The "problem" for the passing game, if one wishes to call it that, was in the complementary targets. Jabar Gaffneyreturned coming off a season in which he grabbed 36 passes for 449 yards and five touchdowns as the fourth receiver. With Donte' Stallworthoff to Cleveland via free agency, the hope was that Gaffney would increase those numbers with a larger role.
It didn't happen. He finished with just two more catches for 19 more yards and dropped to two touchdowns. While he had been an unsung, big-play target for Brady in 2007, he was largely an afterthought for Cassel and had trouble holding onto the ball at various times. He also is set to hit the free agent market late next month, which could have the Patriots looking for a few wideouts to deepen their top-heavy crew.
Assuming Gaffney returns, which would be likely considering he re-upped for two years at modest dollars the last time he hit the market, the Patriots could still use some additional weapons at wide receiver. Kevin Faulk(58 catches, 486 yards, 3 TDs) was actually the team's third leading receiver in 2008, a fact that illustrates the lack of depth outside.
After Gaffney, you'd have to go all the way down to the eighth spot on the team's receiving list to find the next wideout – Sam Aiken, who finished with just eight catches for 101 yards. Kelley Washington(one catch) was the only other wideout to record a reception. That means the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 receivers combined for just 47 catches for 572 yards and two touchdowns. Considering Stallworth and Gaffney combined for 82 catches for 1,146 yards and eight touchdowns in 2007 the drop-off was significant.
So the need for some depth is apparent. The Patriots opened the 2008 season with two multi-purpose players at the bottom of the wide receiver chart: Matthew Slaterand Ray Ventrone. Both saw most of their action on special teams and have the ability to fill in at safety as well. Neither would be considered an option at wideout moving forward barring unforeseen injuries at the position, although Slater did see some snaps there while Ventrone spent much of the season practicing at the spot.
Bill Belichickwill likely explore options at wideout in both free agency and the draft. With Moss and Welker mainstays at the top, this group can't be considered a major priority. But the depth did take a hit over the past year and luckily the starters have been remarkably durable during their two years together as Patriots with neither missing a single game. Re-signing Gaffney shouldn't be a huge problem, but the team could use a veteran to round out an already productive position for 2009.
The WR Roster
(Players listed alphabetically, as of Jan. 22, 2009)
88 – Sam Aiken
10 – Jabar Gaffney*
81 – Randy Moss
18 – Matthew Slater
41 – Ray Ventrone
15 – Kelley Washington
83 – Wes Welker
- – Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent
Up next in the Position Snapshot series: cornerback, coming Monday, Jan. 26. Tomorrow look for "Debate Friday" as two of the PFW staff will battle point-counterpoint style on a topic.