The Patriots overhauled their wide receiving corps this offseason, most notably passing on re-signing Wes Welker while bringing in Danny Amendola.
The team released the cantankerous Brandon Lloyd and watched as running back Danny Woodhead signed with the San Diego Chargers. Tight end Aaron Hernandez was released just hours before being charged with murder.
This season, Tom Brady will have a whole new cast of top receivers. Here is a look at the new players on the roster who will attempt to fill the holes.
The team’s new slot receiver was signed to a 5-year, $31 million deal to replace Wes Welker a day after Welker bolted to Denver to play with Patriots nemesis Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Amendola is in his fifth season. He played his first four with the St. Louis Rams after coming into the league as an undrafted rookie in 2009. When he began his career, he was primarily viewed as a punt and kick returner, with 66 kickoff returns his rookie year and another 50 return attempts in 2010. He has a career average of 23.5 yards per return.
The 27-year-old from Woodlands, Texas and Texas Tech product has 196 career receptions for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns. His best year came in 2010 when he caught 85 passes for 689 yards and three touchdowns. His best game ever was a 15-catch, 150-yard performance against the Washington Redskins last fall.
Throughout Amendola’s career, he has been plagued with injuries. He’s missed 20 of 32 regular season games in the past two years, including three games last season after suffering a sternoclavicular joint separation. He was put on injured reserve in 2011 with an elbow injury.
In 2013, he’s expected to be Tom Brady’s top target.
The rookie receiver has burst onto the scene in Foxborough. Undrafted out of the University of Cincinnati, Thompkins is expected to be the team’s starting outside wide receiver, besting draft picks Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce after a stellar training camp.
Thompkins’s rise to become a starting NFL receiver didn’t come without adversity. He had a tumultuous upbringing, getting arrested seven times between the ages of 15 and 18 for drugs and robbery. He committed to Morgan State, but was unable to attend because of a lack of grades. He ended up starting his college career at El Camino Community College in California, becoming the school’s all-time leading receiver. (His quarterback was Matt Simms, the current New York Jets backup.)
He ended up signing a letter of intent to Tennessee, choosing the Volunteers because he liked coach Lane Kiffin. But his move to Tennessee was never meant to be. Kiffin departed to take over USC and he de-committed from the school, ending up at Cincinnati thanks to his cousin, Antonio Brown, a wide receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers and prodigy of former Central Michigan and Cincinnati coach Butch Jones.
Thompkins had to sit a year because Tennessee didn’t release him from his letter of intent. But that didn’t stop him from being successful and getting his act together. He caught 78 passes for 1,077 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons for the Bearcats, keeping his nose clean while under Jones’ tutelage. He went undrafted because teams were scared off by his arrest history.
At 25, he’s one of the Patriots’ oldest rookies and is expected to be the team’s primary deep-threat receiver. He has shown an explosive burst off the line and an ability to fight for balls in the air. The speedster was clocked with a 4.46 40-yard dash, better than Brandon Lloyd and Chad Johnson, his predecessors. But most importantly, he’s shown himself to be focused and consistent, two qualities the Patriots value highly.
The 59th overall pick of the 2013 draft, Dobson is a smooth running receiver with the ability to run right past defenders.
At 6-3, he is the tallest Patriots draft choice at wide receiver since 2003, when the team selected P.K. Sam in the seventh round. As a second-round draft choice, he is the highest Patriots draft selection at wide receiver since Chad Jackson in 2006 (36th overall) and Bethel Johnson in 2003 (45th overall).
Dobson played college football at Marshall, where he caught 165 passes in four years for 2,398 yards and 24 touchdowns. His 24 touchdowns at Marshall are tied for fourth best in school history with Patriots Hall of Fame member Troy Brown. However, because of his size and body type, he is often compared to Thundering Herd legend Randy Moss, whose deep threat ability Dobson would like to replicate.
The 22-year-old from Dunbar, W.Va., ran an official 4.43 40-yard dash, with marks as low as 4.35. But more interesting, with 92 targets in his senior season at Marshall, he managed to get by without recording a single drop.
While he is expected to be the team’s outside receiver of the future, he sits behind undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins on the depth chart.
The Patriots decided to double dip at wide receiver in the 2013 draft, selecting Boyce as the team’s four round draft choice, 102nd overall. The 22-year old comes to the Patriots after three impressive seasons at Texas Christian, where he compiled 161 receptions for 2,535 yards and 22 touchdowns.
He finished his junior year of eligibility in 2012 with 66 catches for 891 yards and seven touchdowns. He was All-Big 12 honorable mention.
Boyce’s hallmark has been his speed. At 5-11 and 205 pounds, he ran an official 4.34 40-yard dash while clocking as low as 4.30. Patriots fans may not have seen Boyce at his top speed in the spring because he was hobbled with a foot injury suffered at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Along with second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, Boyce figures to play a role as one of the team’s outside receivers. But he also shifted inside to the slot during his time at TCU.
What’s more, he has the ability to return kicks for the Patriots’ ailing special teams unit.
Sudfeld is not your ordinary rookie. The 24-year-old spent six years in college at Nevada plagued by a host of injuries. He had shoulder, leg, knee, and wrist surgeries, requiring a medical redshirt after getting hurt in the first game of his fifth year with the Wolfpack before finally seeing some significant action.
In his sixth season, he caught 45 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns.
At 6-7 and 253 pounds, he is a large target for Tom Brady to pair with Rob Gronkowski. After beating out Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells for a roster spot as an undrafted rookie, he is now largely viewed as the team’s replacement for tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Fans have taken to calling him “Studfeld’’ for his dynamic catches during training camp. The Modesto, Calif., native is seven inches taller than his twin brother Matt, who played wide receiver for Brown.