One of the less-heralded stories of the 2013 NFL season was the emergence of Chicago WR Alshon Jeffery as one of the league’s elite wide receivers. Jeffery ranked second in the NFC in receiving yards, coming up 72 yards shy of outpacing position standard-bearer Calvin Johnson. The performance of the second-year wideout was among the most pivotal factors in the Bears improvement to the second-highest point total in the league.
The Patriots hope they have their own version of Jeffery already on the roster in rookie WR Aaron Dobson. The two players show a number of physical similarities and are tied to good offenses where they are not asked to shoulder the entire workload.
Physically, the two are very similar. Both stand at 6’3”, with Jeffrey tipping the scales 16 pounds heavier than Dobson’s 200. However, Dobson’s frame could likely add a bit of weight without adversely affecting his quickness or straight-line speed. Dobson ran a sub-4.4 40 at his Pro Day in 2013, a full tenth of a second quicker than Jeffery’s 2013 time. However, Alshon bested Dobson’s vertical by an inch and a half and posted better times in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle drills, showing slightly better quickness and explosion.
Jeffery’s rookie season included 48 targets, which he converted into 24 catches for 367 yards (15.3 yards per catch). His 50 percent completion percentage on balls thrown his way is not uncommon; wide receivers typically show a significant improvement in converting targets into catches as they learn their team’s system and adjust to the pro game in their second year. Jeffrey did just that in 2013, converting nearly 60 percent of his targets into catches.
Dobson earned a bit more playing time in his rookie year than Jeffery, hauling in 37 of 72 targets for 519 yards (14.0 yards per catch). Twenty-six of his catches were in the first seven games of the year before a foot injury derailed his rookie campaign.
An Alshon Jeffery-like leap forward for Dobson would likely lead to very respectable numbers and provide the kind of physical boost that the Patriots could use on the outside. In his sophomore campaign, Jeffery turned 149 targets into 89 catches, 1421 yards and seven scores. While Dobson might struggle to attract the same number of targets, it’s reasonable to expect his total targets could reach the low triple digits. That would put a 70 catch, 1100 yard season comfortably within reach, with higher totals possible if the Patriots opt to let Edelman walk in free agency.
It’s hard to gauge how much the emergence of Dobson would impact the passing game, but there is a significant chance that it could be the missing piece that helps the team get over the hump in the playoffs. Since the abrupt departure of Randy Moss in 2010, one thing New England’s offense has sorely lacked is a big, physical presence at wide receiver. For all of the headaches that Moss brought toward the end of his tenure with the Patriots, he also added a down-the-field element to the passing game that helped create room underneath for shifty receivers like Wes Welker to get open. Without a rangy, physical threat outside to keep safeties well off the line of scrimmage, good defenses have utilized their safeties in coverage to take away the short and intermediate passes that the Pats personnel favors.
Dobson doesn’t need to be Randy Moss to play a role in improving the passing game. He only needs to show continued growth as a player, build a stronger rapport with Brady and do enough in practice and on the field to earn the trust of his future Hall of Fame QB.