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Without Gonzalez, a WR re-set

5/29/2012

With the news that Anthony Gonzalez has been released, the Patriots wide receiving corps has been shaved down to 11 players.

It’s a total that will continue to shrink as the regular season approaches, and a position that is likely to remain squarely on the radar, as the team boasts numerous players that project to find their way on to an NFL roster this season -- in New England or elsewhere.

With 90 players on the active roster and a host of experience, depth and versatility at the receiver spot, it seems unlikely that the Patriots will make another major receiver move before training camp, although we know enough to state that anything can happen in the NFL.

Keeping in mind that the roster is fluid, here is a snapshot of the Patriots receivers as of today, dissected from four angles.

1. ALIGNMENT

More specifically, here is a look at which players project to play in an outside receiver role, which project to line-up inside, and which appear versatile enough to do both.

Outside only (6): Brandon Lloyd, Chad Ochocinco, Donte’ Stallworth, Britt Davis, Matt Roark, Matthew Slater (note: a receiver by listed position, but Slater’s value remains as a special teams ace)

Inside Only (3): Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Jeremy Ebert

Inside/Outside (2): Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch

Quick Take: It’s probably oversimplifying the receiver duties in a Josh McDaniels-led offense to break it down to inside/outside alignments only, but that being said, it’s clear the Patriots are well-stocked in both areas. One can see that Ochocinco and Stallworth could be competing directly against each other, with both veterans retaining a chance to slide onto the roster.

2. SPECIAL TEAMS

One way for receivers to stand out come training camp is an ability to contribute on special teams. The Patriots would likely love to have as many dual-phase receivers as is possible, but it’s unlikely that all of them will have a role in the kicking game to supplement their offensive output.

Core Contributors (4): Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Matt Roark, Britt Davis

Role Contributors (4): Wes Welker (punt returner), Jeremy Ebert (punt/kick returner), Donte’ Stallworth (kick returner), Deion Branch (punt returner)

No Contributions (3): Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Ochocinco

Quick Take: Given the fact that three projected primary targets (Lloyd, Gaffney and Branch) have essentially zero special teams value, the play of both Slater and Edelman further stands out. Slater’s captaincy in 2011 on special teams was well earned, and although he may not be much an offensive force, Bill Belichick and his staff don’t appear to undersell the importance his role.

3. CONTRACT

Yet another intriguing wrinkle to the Patriots receiving corps is the number of players entering the final year of their respective deals. Here’s a breakdown of the remaining years left for each target.

Four Years (1): Jeremy Ebert

Three Years (3): Brandon Lloyd, Matthew Slater, Matt Roark

Two Years (1): Jabar Gaffney

One Year (6): Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Chad Ochocinco, Donte’ Stallworth, Britt Davis

Quick Take: Given that only one true, proven receiving threat (Lloyd) has more than two years remaining on his deal, it seems possible that this position could look much different in the coming seasons. Not to get ahead of ourselves, however, as Welker may come to terms on an extension, and Edelman strikes us as a possible long-term contract candidate as well.

4. ROSTER STANDING

Again, we are a ways away from the final cut-downs, so take these notations with a grain of salt. This is simply a projection of what we think based off the information we have available today. Much could change between now and early September.

Locks (4): Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Matthew Slater

Solid Bet (2): Deion Branch, Julian Edelman

On The Bubble (2): Chad Ochocinco, Donte’ Stallworth

Developmental/Practice Squad Candidates (2): Jeremy Ebert, Britt Davis

Long Shot (1): Matt Roark

Quick Take: It’s typical for NFL teams to carry at least five receivers, and at times up to as many as seven. The outline above aligns with Mike Reiss’ recent receiver projection, which includes six keepers (those listed in the locks and solid bets). Should Ochocinco regain his old form, or Stallworth flash some of what made him productive in previous seasons, this position battle could become very closely contested. Keep an eye out of the youngsters too.