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Sunday, April 14, 2013
What's next for Patriots at receiver?

By Mike Reiss

With the Steelers matching the Patriots' $2.5 million offer sheet for restricted free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders, New England is back to square one in terms of addressing what is arguably the most glaring need on the 2013 roster.

Here is a reset of New England's personnel at the position:

Kamar Aiken
Danny Amendola
Jeremy Ebert
Julian Edelman
Andre Holmes
Michael Jenkins
Donald Jones
Matthew Slater

If the Patriots enter the 2013 season with this as their complete receiver depth chart, it likely will be an area of major struggles. As the Patriots showed by signing Sanders to an offer sheet, they acknowledge the need for an upgrade.

The best place to do so is the draft, but here's the catch: If there is one position Bill Belichick has struggled to draft and develop, it's receivers. Look at the history of Belichick's draft picks at the position and it's shaky at best: Deion Branch (second round, 2002), David Givens (seventh, 2002), Bethel Johnson (second, 2003), P.K. Sam (fifth, 2004), Chad Jackson (second, 2006), Brandon Tate (third, 2009), Edelman (seventh, 2009), Taylor Price (third, 2010), Ebert (seventh, 2012).

Belichick has noted several times in the past that projecting receivers from college to the team's system is a lot harder than projecting how a receiver already in the NFL might fit because of the differences in the college and pro passing games.

But at this point, he might not have a choice; the best chance for the team to add a top-level receiver looks like the draft. For what it's worth, the club has hosted a handful of receivers on pre-draft visits -- Oregon State's Markus Wheaton, Southern Cal's Robert Woods, Oklahoma's Kenny Stills and Texas Christian's Josh Boyce among them.

This sets up an intriguing storyline for the Patriots: Given the glaring need, can they reverse their struggles when it comes to drafting and developing receivers? And if not, how will it affect their 2013 season?