Tom Brady may still need some time to get everyone’s names down.
The Patriots have nine new wide receivers on their roster as they roll on through training camp, and of the three who do have experience with Brady — Kamar Aiken, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater — only Edelman has more than one career reception.
A few spring practices and a handful of days in camp may have alleviated some of that “new friend” awkwardness, but comfort and consistency is still a far cry from confidence.
There is no debate about Brady’s No. 1 receiver heading into the season. Danny Amendola got Wes Welker’s money this offseason and will be counted on to take over his role in the offense, too. But, outside of D.A. — both literally and figuratively — there are just a bunch of question marks so far.
Who Is Competing
The Patriots brought in a hoard of players to compete at receiver during the offseason, but so far Amendola is the only one to establish himself.
Rookie Aaron Dobson put on a great performance in Day 2 of camp, snatching all the headlines and finally displaying the big-play ability the Patriots were banking on when taking him 59th overall (second round) in April’s draft. He’s spurned the bad case of drop-itis that he seemed to pick up during the spring, but now his lack of strength off the line seems to be the big issue.
Much like Dobson, rookie Josh Boyce stole the show on Day 3. He displayed great quickness off the line and out in space — very Welker-esque — and seemed to be more focused on securing the catch before making his first move. Consistency continues to trouble Boyce, but he deserves at least some slack given he wasn’t able to practice at all during the spring.
Undrafted rookie Kembrell Thompkins was a consistent presence throughout the weekend, just as he was during the spring, giving even the veteran defensive backs fits with his height (6-foot-1) and precise route running. He still is having troubles with adjustments at the line, which saw him catch some flak from Brady on Monday, but he should continue to develop with the offense as camp progresses.
Fellow undrafted rookies Ashford Perez and Quentin Sims have had their nice moments and struggles in camp, but even so neither seems to be very long for the team.
Some veterans have made waves on the receiver depth chart, too. Michael Jenkins is the big name there, running with the first team for much of the offseason and showing off reliable hands throughout camp so far. His slow release off the line and lack of, well, any real speed overshadow his dependability at times, but his experience has earned him some of Brady’s trust.
With tall, athletic receivers in mind, Aiken has been an unexpected stud for the majority of camp thus far. His height (6-foot-2) and ability to break away from defenders in man coverage has seen him excel where some of the younger receivers have struggled. Monday wasn’t his finest performance, but he’s shown great knowledge and feel for the offense on the whole.
Lavelle Hawkins is another name to watch. He is a short, shifty, athletic receiver with a quick first step and the ability to make plays both in the slot and on the outside. He’s dropped a few balls in camp and miscommunicated with Brady on routes and adjustments on occasion. His skill set still fits this offense well and he should be seen as a legitimate contender to fill the need at the X receiver and as depth behind Amendola in the slot.
Everyone already knows Edelman and Slater’s back stories and their experience in this offense. Slater seems like a safe bet to make the roster as would Edelman, if he can ever get fully healthy.
Who Has the Inside Track?
Only three players can really feel that they’re safe on this wide receiving corps. Amendola can breathe easy both because of his strong play and the five-year deal he signed earlier this offseason. Dobson and Boyce should also feel comfortable about their place on the roster, seeing as the Patriots spent some high draft picks on each of them. Aside from that, everything is up for grabs.
Slater’s spot would seem pretty safe, too, considering his leadership and impact on special teams, bringing the receiver total to four. That leaves the likes of Jenkins, Hawkins, Edelman and Thompkins to fight it out for the final two spots — assuming the Patriots keep only six receivers.
Right now, with Edelman on the shelf and Dobson’s emergence making Jenkins expendable, the edge would have to go to Hawkins and Aiken. If Edelman can get healthy, this story could well change as he’d likely duke it out with Hawkins for a spot. It also wouldn’t be a great surprise to see Thompkins end up on the practice squad if he can’t land a place on the final 53.
There are still plenty of practices and games to go before making a final evaluation of this wide receiver group, but, however this shakes out, it’s already shaping up to be a major battle. So, keep your eyes peeled.
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