Widely known that they need a receiver
INDIANAPOLIS - Tom Brady has it all, fame, fortune, an endless supply of toasty UGG boots, and a very supportive supermodel wife. So, what do you get for the guy who has everything?
If you’re the Patriots, you get Brady a game-changing outside wide receiver who can stretch defenses like spandex.
Most experts and fans are banging the table for coach Bill Belichick to augment the defense this offseason, rightfully so. Critiquing an offense that averaged 32.1 points and 428 yards per game and has a pair of tight ends who wouldn’t look out of place at the NBA All-Star Game is like complaining that Apple stock isn’t trading high enough.
But if the Patriots need any reminder that poking, prodding, and perusing pass catchers should be a priority here at the annual cattle call, err, NFL Scouting Combine, all they have to do is recall the last time they came to Indianapolis.
The Giants followed the blueprint for defending Brady in Super Bowl XLVI. They protected the middle of the field, made sure they didn’t give up a lot of yards after catch, and dared the Patriots to beat them outside the numbers and over the top. The Patriots didn’t have a Mario Manningham moment.
“We really didn’t make any big plays,’’ remarked Brady following the 21-17 Super Bowl setback. “You need those methodical drives. We put together a few of them. We just couldn’t put together enough of them.’’
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said wide receiver was a position of strength in this draft, and with the Patriots possessing four picks in the first two rounds, including Nos. 27 and 31 in the first round, this could be the year New England dives into the wide receiver pool and makes a splash instead of a splat.
The Patriots and drafting receivers have gone together about as well as snow shovels and suntan lotion.
While the Patriots enjoyed historic offensive output with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and won Super Bowls with free agent find David Patten, Deion Branch and David Givens remain the last homegrown wide receivers of repute. Branch, who turns 33 in July, came into the league in 2002 as a second-round pick, along with Givens, a seventh-rounder.
In the decade since, the Patriots have had about as much success finding a young receiver who can catch on as they did throwing to Chad Ochocinco this past season. The gridiron graveyard in Foxborough is littered with wideout picks who couldn’t grasp the offense or what it took to get inside Brady’s circle of trust.
Bethel Johnson (second round, 2003), Chad Jackson (second round, 2006), Brandon Tate (third round, 2009), and Taylor Price (third round, 2010) all lasted fewer than three seasons and all were at their fastest when they were being booted out the door.
Since Belichick became coach in 2000, the team has had only one homegrown receiver gain more than 1,000 yards: Bill Parcells holdover Troy Brown had 1,199 yards in 2001, although Branch had 998 yards in 2005.
The Red Sox have had shortcomings with selecting free agent shortstops. The Bruins have the never-ending pursuit of the puck-moving defenseman. The Patriots have young wide receivers as their personnel and personal Waterloo.
“Oh, yeah, we had hits and misses,’’ former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, now the general manager of the Chiefs, said yesterday. “Free agency [too]. Donald Hayes, I blew that one. No offense to Donald.
“It’s difficult sometimes to see a player in a different system, depending on the challenges of your offense. There is the physical part. Then there is the mental part of the NFL. There are some guys who can get by purely on athletic ability and skill and make a difference in college.
“As those players become pro players and other people around them improve, it sometimes becomes more difficult. Some of that becomes the mental game. The mental game in the pros is very different.’’
That’s particularly the case when you’re dealing with a quarterback that is an NFL Mensa member like Brady, who is known to have little patience for wayward wide receivers.
“There is no doubt. The thing about Tommy also is if you can’t think or think fast [snaps his finger], he’s going to find someone else,’’ said Pioli. “That’s the way it is. That’s the way it should be.’’
Pioli, who selected wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin in the first round last year, said he hasn’t changed how he evaluates receivers since leaving New England. “No, I think sometimes you hit and sometimes you don’t,’’ he said.
The Patriots are due for a home run. You would have to say that if the Patriots selected Kendall Wright of Baylor or Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers or Michael Floyd of Notre Dame or Joe Adams of Arkansas that the odds would be on their side.
Receiver is a position where the Patriots could use some youth. Welker and Branch, both of whom are eligible for free agency, are on the wrong side of 30. Welker turns 31 in May. Longtime Brady security blanket Branch would like to return to New England next season, but his pro football biological clock is ticking.
“Really, I think it’s about anybody that can help your team, whether it’s young, old, veteran player, older player,’’ said Caserio. “We’ve gotten production from that position. I mean, shoot, we threw for more than 5,000 yards in the passing game . . . We’ll address that position like we have to address any position.’’
They should address it in the draft. If they do their due diligence here, the Patriots might be able to get a Super Bowl out of Indianapolis after all.