The Patriots learned their lesson after Joey Galloway's spectacular failure in 2009, as they've added a handful of receivers to compliment Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2010. So, this begs the question: Who, if anyone in particular, can emerge as the Patriots' third receiving option next season?
The options, at this point in time, are many. New England has a talented crop of receivers competing for about four or five roster spots, with Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Torry Holt, David Patten, Sam Aiken and rookie Taylor Price leading the charge. For this specific question, let's start by eliminating Aiken, who will likely make the team because of his special teams value but couldn’t capitalize in his role as a third wideout in 2009.
From there, this question could be answered two ways. Is the third receiving option considered the guy who racks up the third-most catches, or is it the best compliment as the third receiver on the field with both Moss and Welker?
In terms of catches, Edelman probably leads the way. He had 37 receptions during his rookie season, which was tied with running back Kevin Faulk for third on the team, but he only played in 11 games and was greatly limited due to injuries. Because Edelman is so good as a slot receiver, it's a good bet that he'll again finish third in receptions, but he may not have the ability to line up on the outside and be as effective at this stage of his career.
Also, don’t forget about Tate, who is somewhat of a wild card and could be used in similar fashion as Edelman. Tate's rookie season was basically a washout due to injuries, and it's tough to forecast how significant his role will be in 2010. Tate had a good string of offseason practices, but he still has to develop more as a prototypical wide receiver.
Moving on, Holt was brought to New England with the hopes that he could emerge as the starter on the opposite side of Moss. Holt didn’t really jump out during the Patriots' organized team activities or minicamp, but his veteran smarts should make him an asset. The ideal third wide receiver in the New England offense should be smart enough to exploit single coverages, space the field to spread the zone and remain on the same page as quarterback Tom Brady. Due to Holt's Hall of Fame-caliber résumé, one would think the 34-year-old is capable of doing all of that.
However, Patten could be a dark-horse candidate to fill the same role. It's become obvious he wasn’t signed with charitable intent, and his knowledge of the system will make him a hard cut in a couple of months. It's unlikely both Holt and Patten will make the team, but it would be mildly surprising if both of them got cut. Consider them in direct competition for one job during training camp.
Price is another intriguing option. He couldn’t participate in practice until the Patriots' three-day minicamp, but he had two excellent showings, especially considering how far behind he was compared to the rest of the team. Price has the ideal build and speed for an outside receiver, and he really looked the part at practice. It will take him awhile to figure out the system, but he looked extremely solid while running sideline routes and seemed to catch everything thrown in his direction. Because Price is a rookie, he might not have a strong start to the season, but look for him to have a really good finish.
The Patriots have plenty of options and depth behind Moss and Welker — much more than last season. But with the mixture of young (inexperience) and old (potential physical limitations), there are questions that remain unanswered. As for the original question, though, expect Edelman to finish third in receptions, and a combination of Holt and Price to fill the role of the offense's outside compliment to Moss and Welker.
NESN.com will be answering one Patriots question every day until
Sunday, June 27: How do the Patriots match up against the Jets?
Tuesday, June 29: What is the best offensive line combination?