When the Patriots took the field to open up training camp at Gillette Stadium a few weeks back, Tom Brady had a bevy of options on the outside. A little over a month later, though, and the cupboard appears to be pretty bare.
With the release of veteran wideouts like Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and now even the beloved Deion Branch, there doesn't appear to be much depth beyond top-flight starters Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. But while they may not be nationally recognized names, there are still a few players that could fill that void left behind them.
Julian Edelman is the first name that comes to mind. Now entering his fourth year with the Patriots, Edelman has a firm grasp on the offense and would seem to be a perfect fit inside of Lloyd in the slot. He's shown once before, during his rookie season in 2009, that he can be an effective option and even racked up 37 catches that season to show off his production value.
Next on the list would likely be newly acquired receiver Greg Salas. With a solid familiarity of Josh McDaniels' offense already, Salas should have no problem jumping right into a role on the outside and making an impact. He did just that in his rookie season in St. Louis, catching 27 balls for 264 yards in six games with the Rams in 2011, and should be expected to have a similar impact once settled in New England this year.
The other likely option to fill the Patriots No. 3 slot would be Aaron Hernandez. Although he may be a tight end in name, Hernandez is simply a pass catcher by trade. There's been rampant speculation throughout the offseason that Hernandez's role would be geared more as a slot receiver in 2012 and the preseason at least partially confirmed those beliefs. So while he may not be listed on the Patriots depth chart at receiver, Hernandez could easily fill the void left over.
And of course there's always Branch, whose locker remains intact inside the Patriots locker room. Could it be a sign of things to come?
With plenty of questions and a number of guys to fill that spot on the depth chart, who do you think will take over as New England's third wide receiver?
Salas photo via Facebook/Greg Salas