From the moment the Patriots decided to let Wes Welker leave as a free agent it was apparent that New England's receiving corps would take on a different look in 2013. Since then the team also learned it would be without Aaron Hernandez permanently and Rob Gronkowski likely for the start of the season.
So, where does the offense go from here? Danny Amendola obviously was a big-money addition to the group and he'll represent the top option in the passing game – at least until Gronkowski is ready to return. He worked well with Tom Brady during the spring camps and appears to be primed for a big role in the offense this season.
Beyond Amendola, however, there are questions. The Patriots drafted two rookie wideouts in Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. They also signed a couple other rookies in Mark Harrison and Kenbrell Thompkins. In addition, New England signed veteran free agents Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and Lavelle Hawkins. The lone returner with any significant experience, Julian Edelman, also will be in the mix.
The Patriots also have tight ends Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard and Michael Hoomanawanui as well as running backs Shane Vereen and Leon Washington – each of whom is a gifted receiver. Perhaps their roles in the passing game will be bigger than those of running backs in the recent past.
In other words there are options but not many without their share of uncertainty. Therefore on this holiday weekend PFW will try to decide where the fireworks will come from for the Patriots offense in 2013.
This week's Samsonite Make Your Case questions asks: Who will be the Patriots second receiver behind Danny Amendola?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Understanding the track record for rookie receivers in New England is not a good one, Dobson has to be the pick. In the past there have been other options that Tom Brady has felt more comfortable with and therefore life for the new guy hasn't always been easy. This year Brady won't have much of a choice. He's going to have to throw the ball to someone he's not overly familiar with – and Dobson is going to be that guy.
Dobson has good size at 6-3 and 200 pounds. He's shown good hands during the spring and has the ability to make tough catches in traffic. Assuming he can stay healthy and be on the field throughout training camp, he appears to be the perfect guy to line up on the outside and complement Amendola between the hashes.
There will be some growing pains to be sure but unlike the past when Brady sometimes soured on new receivers quickly, he won't be able to be so hasty with Dobson. He's going to love the athleticism the second-round pick brings to the field and he'll quickly learn he can trust him.
Dobson isn't going to be setting any rookie records for receptions or anything, but as long as he's healthy he's going to get chances to contribute right away. He'll make the most of those chances.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
My pick is a bit outside the box, and it has as much to do with how I feel Vereen can contribute as it does with my lack of faith with the new group of wideouts. Vereen is a versatile running back with wide receiver skills. He came to New England with experience in a pro style passing game from his days at Cal, where he operated in Jeff Tedford's sophisticated system. He understands how to run routes and get open as well as catch the ball.
During the spring there were times when Vereen lined up as a receiver on the outside where the Patriots were looking to isolate him in space against a linebacker. It was similar to last year's divisional playoff win over Houston when he caught a long touchdown pass down the left sideline on a double move. I can see Brady and Vereen hooking up in a similar fashion – only more often – this year.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.