Thoughts on LaFell agreement

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
11:30
PM ET
Thoughts on the Patriots' reaching agreement with receiver Brandon LaFell on a three-year deal, as reported by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter:

Had success against the Patriots: We've seen examples in the past where the Patriots have trouble defending a player, and in future years, that leads Bill Belichick to pursue that player. Wes Welker is the most notable example of that. While not at Welker's level, LaFell was excellent in the Panthers' 24-20 win over the Patriots on Nov. 18. He had a season-high seven catches and a touchdown.

Getting a feel for LaFell as a player: When it was first learned that the Patriots hosted LaFell on a free-agent visit this past Wednesday, I went back to watch the Nov. 18 Patriots-Panthers game to get a better feel for his style of play. He aligned in various spots in the game, and was often used in motion. He played on the outside in two-receiver sets, although the Panthers often had two receivers to the same side, and in those cases, LaFell would usually be aligned as the inside receiver. In the three-receiver set, he would mostly be in the slot as the Panthers seemed to want the speed of Steve Smith and Ted Ginn outside. LaFell showed good hands (e.g., tough sideline catch for a first down), precise route-running (e.g., 9-yard slant for a touchdown against Logan Ryan) and strength as a blocker (e.g., he leveled defensive end Andre Carter on one play). LaFell doesn't wow with speed and might be summed up best this way -- a solid-not-spectacular receiver with good size (6-2, 210) and versatility. He also boasts potential as a red zone target, and he's been durable in his four years in the NFL (just four games missed).

Layering the receiver depth chart: LaFell (fifth season) joins Julian Edelman (sixth) and Danny Amendola (sixth) as the most experienced receivers on the depth chart. That experience is balanced by the youth and potential of second-year pass-catchers Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted). For those eyeing a consistent downfield presence outside the numbers, Dobson and his development still looks like the key. His offseason has been altered after he underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his left foot.

Back-and-forth with the Broncos: Perhaps it was a coincidence, but news of LaFell's agreement with the Patriots came shortly after it was learned former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders (whom the Patriots had signed to a restricted free-agent offer sheet last year) had agreed to terms with the Broncos. This has been a wild week for both teams in terms of significant free-agent signings, and the back-and-forth continued late Saturday night.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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