At the start of the 2010 season, Patriots wide receiver Brandon Tate looked like the best thing the team has had at kick returner since Raymond Clayborn. Then, Tate fell off considerably, both on offense and special teams.
How he bounces back in training camp will determine his fate on the 2011 roster.
Tate will compete with Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater and Darnell Jenkins, among others, for five to seven spots.
Why He'll Make the Team
Tate is an extremely dynamic talent who has the potential to be one of the NFL's elite kick returners for several years. He also has enough athleticism to be a true deep threat in the passing game, as well as a weapon in gimmicky plays. These types of players have become increasingly important in recent seasons, and if the Patriots believe he can get himself back on track, there's no way they should part with him.
Why He Might Not Make the Team
Tate's slide was startling last season. In his first four games, Tate averaged 33.4 yards over 18 kick returns, which led the league among players with at least 11 returns, and he also had two touchdowns. But in the final 12 games of the regular season, Tate's average plummeted to 19.8 yards over 23 returns, which ranked 33rd among the 35 players who had at least 16 returns during that stretch.
Also, Tate ranked third on the Patriots with 11 receptions through four games. But he only had 13 catches in his last 12 games, which was a distant sixth on the team throughout that stretch. His entire game suffered for the last three quarters of the season, and he's got to prove that he can adjust as coverage units and defenses that change their schemes to limit his explosion.
It might take another couple of years for Tate to really emerge as a solid wide receiver, mostly because he wasn't used properly for much of his career at North Carolina. He's talented, but extremely raw. However, his greatest skill at this point is as a kick returner, and he's got to show that his slump is a thing of the past. The competition at wide receiver could be very tight in training camp, especially if the Patriots add a veteran free agent into the mix, so Tate must prove that his special teams talent is absolutely indispensible.
Every day through Aug. 1, Jeff Howe will spotlight one player who could potentially be on the Patriots' roster bubble.
Monday, July 25: Wide receiver Taylor Price
Wednesday, July 27: Cornerback Kyle Arrington
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