The Patriots now have 12 wide receivers on their roster after signing free agent Lavelle Hawkins to a 2-year deal. The addition makes for an interesting mix as the group of players competing to make the team swells to a number worthy of the show “Survivor.”
The clarity of the group’s rankings isn’t helped by Julian Edelman’s status, who is back in a walking boot after re-injuring his right foot. He is one player who can not afford to have an unhealthy training camp while the team has plenty of options – both cheaper and younger – to turn to in his stead. Without Edelman, who will possibly miss OTAs because of the injury, the Patriots are looking at a full-blown overhaul in the position group. That will lead to training camp battles as both veterans (Hawkins, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones) and rookie free agents (T.J. Moe, Kenbrell Thompkins) fight for the remaining spots on the team’s roster.
But as history under Bill Belichick will tell you, the odds do not favor the veterans. For instance, just last season Belichick brought in free agents Brandon Lloyd, Donte’ Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, and Anthony Gonzalez in the offseason. Lloyd was the major free agent grab for the team, replacing Chad Ochocinco/Johnson, so his spot was secure. But Stallworth and Gaffney were returning to the franchise after sputtering out at their last stops. Neither made it through training camp, while Stallworth latched back on after injuries. Gonzalez didn’t even make it into training camp, with his career succumbing to his own injuries. Despite all three having respectable careers, they were no match for a healthy and entrenched group.
Unfortunately for Hawkins, he doesn’t have a decorated career to force his way onto a roster. But he does have the track star speed that NFL coaches lust for, making him a valued commodity at the right price. At 5-11 and 194 pounds, he ran a 4.49 40-yard dash coming out of college.
But he has been an underachiever in five NFL seasons so far. In his most productive year, 2011, he caught 47 passes for 470 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, after the Titans drafted receiver Kendall Wright in the first round (they added Justin Hunter this year), Hawkins was relegated to third string behind Nate Washington and Wright to start the season. The Titans added Hunter in the draft and then Houston Texans castoff Kevin Walter this offseason, making Hawkins’ hefty salary (slated for $1.9 million in 2013) expendable.
Suffice it to say, the new guys – relatively old and unproven – have an uphill battle. And there are plenty of them to go around.
So what’s the WR depth chart look like?
Here’s an educated guess at where Hawkins as well as the team’s other receivers fit into the Patriots’ scheme as X (boundary, or outside) and Z (slot) receivers:
Going into the 2012 season, the Patriots carried five receivers into the season opener. That group included Matthew Slater, who essentially functions solely on special teams. There were two players for the X and Z positions. But the roster does not need to be duplicated every year, especially when the team’s needs are so drastically different. Based on the Patriots draft and offseason transactions, including a sizable contract given to Jones (3 years, $3.71 million), here is an educated guess on who will make the final 53 right now:
This will most certainly change going into July and August.
Don’t forget these guys
Rod Shoate, a Patriots linebacker from 1971-85, and Tedy Bruschi were named to the College Football Hall of Fame this week. Shoate played part of his college career at Oklahoma under Chuck Fairbanks, the late former Patriots coach. He was picked by the Patriots in the second round of the 1975 draft after finishing as a two-time All-American for the Sooners.
Bruschi, along with Fairbanks and Leon Gray, are up for the Patriots Hall of Fame as well this week. Voting for the team’s hall of fame will come to a close May 15. Get your votes in while you can.
Video of the week (month!)
Tom Brady had a blast at the Kentucky Derby and apparently won around $25,000 after a $4,700 bet on the winning 3-year-old colt, Orb, according to the local tab. This video shows a gleeful Brady along with Tedy Bruschi and Dan Koppen.
I’m sure Patriots fans want to see such jubilation again, particularly in February.
Tweet of the week
From a week full of tweets meant to inspire, linebacker Dane Fletcher managed to offer something different that happened to be the most interesting tweet of them all.
— Dane Fletcher (@Dane_Fletcher) May 8, 2013
Offseason injuries are on the mind. It’s not just Edelman whose name popped up this week, but add in Rob Gronkowski and his possible fourth surgery. Between the two, all of these injuries make our readers quite nervous. Patfaninseattle writes:
Right now we have an All Pro team of injured players. I’ve never seen such a beat up team in the month of May! Gronk, [Aaron] Hernandez, Edelman. Sheesh. Instead of listing these guys as day to day, it should be month to month.
With the way the Patriots have stockpiled talent and aggressively pursued rookie free agents this offseason, the team is well equipped to deal with any temporary loss of talent. But after awhile, one has to wonder if this trio can stay healthy. That’s why it’s not so surprising the team has 12 receivers on the roster and seven tight ends.
– Voting for the Patriots Hall of Fame concludes May 15. On the ballot are Tedy Bruschi, Chuck Fairbanks and Leon Gray. Vote on the team’s website.
– Patriots will have on-field organized team activities (OTAs) May 20-21, 23, 28-30, and June 3-4 as well as June 6-7.
– The team’s mandatory mini-camp will be June 11-13.
– While no date has been set, the Patriots will likely begin training camp in the final week of July.
– The NFL season opens Thursday Sept. 5 with the Broncos hosting the Super Bowl champion Ravens. The Patriots will open the season on Sunday Sept. 8 in Buffalo. Only 128 days away.
Zuri Berry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.