State of the Position: Wide Receivers

With Rob Gronkowski hobbled by a severe high ankle sprain, the Patriots' wide receivers got exposed in Super Bowl XLVI.

Even ignoring Wes Welker’s backbreaking drop, the receivers as a whole failed to make much of an impact against the Giants secondary.

Veteran Deion Branch managed just three catches for 45 yards and Chad Ochocinco caught a single pass for 21 yards.

In fact, tight end Aaron Hernandez led the team with eight catches, but he’s more of a hybrid player rather than a true wideout.

Bill Belichick addressed the lack of depth at wide receiver by bringing in some old faces and jettisoning out some others.

Chad Ochocinco was shown the door after one horrible season as a Patriot, and Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth returned to Foxboro after spending a few years with other teams.

The biggest addition came in the form of Brandon Lloyd, a Josh McDaniels favorite who led the league in receiving just two seasons ago.

With Welker, Lloyd Branch, Julian Edelman and the two newly-signed veterans in the fold, it appeared the Patriots had done a solid job of rebuilding the receiving corps.

However, with the season just a few weeks away, there seem to be more questions than answers at the wide receiver position.

Both Gaffney and Stallworth were cut this week, leaving behind a group that’s mostly the same except for Lloyd and a few roster bubble candidates.

What’s been more concerning has been Lloyd’s inability to show up in preseason games.

By all accounts, the veteran vertical threat has been as good as advertised in practice, but he’s managed just a single reception in preseason action. I have no doubt that Lloyd still has the tools and work ethic to become an integral part of the offense, but after the Ochocinco debacle last year, there’s some reason for trepidation.

Overall, New England’s offense still runs through its elite tight end combo, but they will certainly need heavy contributions from their wideouts.
Welker should continue to rack up big numbers as the game’s premier slot man.

Lloyd should be able to win one-on-one battles and become the vertical threat that the team sorely lacked in 2011.

If the team is able to find a reliable third receiver—whether it’s Branch, Edelman or a combination of players—this offense should be nearly unstoppable.

The lack of depth may cause some mild concern for some fans, but with Gronkowski and Hernandez on board, the Patriots only need three receivers to be significant contributors.