The New England Patriots finally found some rookie wide receivers in 2013 who could contribute.
After the Patriots didn’t pick up wide receiver Brandon Lloyd’s option for 2013 and failed to re-sign Deion Branch, the team obviously was prepared to rely on its three rookie wide receivers — Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce.
The three rookies impressed so much in training camp that the Patriots released veteran wideouts Michael Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins and Kamar Aiken. Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce were inconsistent once the season rolled around, but all three players were still better than former Patriots rookie failures like Chad Jackson, Taylor Price and Brandon Tate.
Now that the season’s over, let’s go through how all the Patriots’ offensive rookies performed in 2013. The defensive rookies will be reviewed Friday.
Aaron Dobson, wide receiver, second round, No. 59: 12 games, nine starts, 557 snaps, 37 catches, 519 yards, four touchdowns.
Expectations were high for Dobson after he was the Patriots’ second selection in the 2013 NFL draft. The Marshall product didn’t suit up in Week 1 after suffering a hamstring injury during training camp. He had three drops in his NFL debut in Week 2 against the New York Jets, which earned him the nickname “Dropson,” which stayed funny and original for all of a few hours.
Dobson made obvious strides throughout the season, earning him six straight starts from Week 6 to Week 11. Dobson’s 519 yards and four touchdowns were the most for a Patriots rookie wideout in the Bill Belichick era. His best game came in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he had five catches for 130 yards.
Dobson’s progress stopped in Week 12 when he injured his foot in the first half against the Denver Broncos. He didn’t seem to be playing with the same confidence or speed when he came back at the end of the season. His chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady appeared to suffer as he missed time, as well.
Dobson is expected to be a starter in 2014, especially if he can build on that six-game stretch and improve for next season. Dobson should be the future at the “X” receiver role given his height and deep speed.
With Dobson’s promise, acquiring a top-flight receiver in free agency or the draft isn’t a necessity. Most NFL players make a big jump from their rookie season to year two.
Josh Boyce, wide receiver, fourth round, No. 102: Nine games, three starts, 182 snaps, nine catches, 121 yards.
Boyce showed a lot of promise during the summer, but he was passed by fellow rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. Boyce was active for nine games and a healthy scratch for five. The TCU product’s best stretch came in Weeks 14 and 15, when he had seven catches for 91 yards. He injured his ankle in Week 15 against the Miami Dolphins and was placed on injured reserve before the playoffs.
Boyce adds a different element than any other receiver on the Patriots’ roster because of his speed and after-catch ability. Boyce is dangerous on screens and could be used on carries out of the backfield.
Boyce had an issue with drops (four on the season), but that should go away with more experience. If Julian Edelman walks in free agency, Boyce has a shot at the starting “Z” receiver role. He also could be the team’s kick returner.
Kenbrell Thompkins, wide receiver, undrafted: 12 games, eight starts, 589 snaps, 32 catches, 466 yards, four touchdowns.
Thompkins’ rookie season was better than anyone expected, but it can be best summarized as “inconsistent.” He too earned a not-so-clever nickname (Dropkins) after he dropped four passes in his first four games.
Thompkins’ best games came in Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons, Week 6 against the New Orleans Saints and Week 12 against the Broncos. He was a healthy scratch in Week 9 against the Steelers after he struggled in Week 8 against the Dolphins.
Thompkins showed some issues with body control and chemistry with Brady. He still had a very productive season for a rookie and has a bright future if he can string together more games like Weeks 4, 6 and 12. Thompkins likely will go into the 2014 season competing for a starting job with Dobson and Boyce, though if the Patriots acquire any receiver this offseason, it will be a crowded group.
Josh Kline, guard, undrafted: Nine games, one start, 115 snaps, no sacks allowed, two quarterback hits, one quarterback hurry.
Kline started one game when Nate Solder was out with a concussion and Logan Mankins slid over to left tackle. Kline looked solid in his NFL action. He began the season on the active roster before going down to the practice squad in Week 3 and coming back up to the 53-man roster in Week 9.
Kline looked like another solid undrafted offensive line find by the Patriots in his limited action.
Chris Barker, guard, undrafted: Six games.
Barker didn’t get any snaps on offense despite spending the whole season on the active roster. He was picked up off waivers from the Dolphins after training camp.
Mark Harrison, wide receiver, undrafted: Non-football injury/reserve list.
Harrison came to the Patriots with a foot injury that he suffered during the NFL scouting combine. Apparently he never recovered from it. Harrison didn’t start practicing during the summer and never came off the non-football injury list during the season.
Harrison was spotted in the Patriots’ locker room throughout the season, so he likely was participating in wide receiver meetings and should have a grasp on the playbook for next season.
Harrison will be behind Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce going into 2014, but he’ll still be able to compete for a roster spot given his size/speed combo.
T.J. Moe, wide receiver, undrafted: Injured reserve.
Moe was expected to be the “next Wes Welker or Danny Amendola” coming out of Missouri, but he suffered a torn Achilles during the summer. He’ll have another opportunity to make the roster in 2014, especially if Edelman doesn’t come back. Moe projects as a slot receiver.
Braxton Cave, center, undrafted: Practice squad.
Cave spent the entire season on the practice squad.
Jordan Devey, tackle, undrafted: Practice squad.
Devey spent the entire season on the practice squad.
Reggie Dunn, wide receiver, undrafted: Practice squad.
Dunn was signed to the practice squad to imitate Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. He had incredible speed and will be back in training camp with the Patriots.
R.J. Mattes, guard/tackle, undrafted: Practice squad.
Mattes was with the Patriots during the summer before being released in August. He re-signed to the practice squad in December.
Sam McGuffie, running back, undrafted: Practice squad.
McGuffie was signed to the practice squad in December. He has experience as a running back and wide receiver and should get an opportunity in training camp.