CINCINNATI -- The end of Brandon LaFell's 2015 season was marred by injury, but before it he was a dependable receiver who occasionally found the end zone.
LaFell had 953 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2014, a Super Bowl-winning season and his first with the New England Patriots. It was also arguably the best year of his career.
For that answer, we defer to ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss, who kindly weighed in with these words for us:
Brandon LaFell had two very different seasons in his time with the Patriots (2014-15) after signing a three-year, $9 million contract following four years with Carolina. In his first year, LaFell quickly won over quarterback Tom Brady -- which is hard to do -- with his physical approach, mental toughness and run-after-the-catch ability. A breakthrough came in a Week 4 blowout loss to the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, when LaFell had a 44-yard catch-and-run touchdown that was one of the few bright spots for the team, and that opened the door for him to become a bigger part of the team's plans.
LaFell quickly became the No. 2 option along Julian Edelman, posting career-highs with 74 catches for 953 yards and seven touchdowns. He played 77.3 percent of the offensive snaps that year, which was the highest total among Patriots receivers.
Things fell off quickly in 2015 and health was a big part of it. LaFell required foot surgery, and with the procedure coming a bit later in the offseason, he wasn't ready for the start of training camp and opened the year on the physically unable to perform list. Once he returned, he never could find the form of 2014, ultimately slipping to No. 4 on the depth chart by the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots, not surprisingly, then decided to move on this offseason with one year left on his contract.
A couple things here. First, thanks again to Reiss for such a complete picture of LaFell. Another thing is this: Can you recall another (now-former) Bengals receiver who had to have foot surgery?
It was both just before and during the 2014 season when Marvin Jones required foot and ankle surgery to fix issues that technically dated back to early that offseason. The injuries were exacerbated when Jones, favoring an ankle, broke his opposite foot in a preseason scrimmage. Altogether, those injuries, plus one more as he tried to return during the season, forced him to miss the entire year.
He came back in 2015 stronger than ever, posting career-highs in catches (65) and yards (816). That performance helped earn him a five-year, $40 million contract with the Lions earlier this month.
Granted, all foot surgeries are different, but when you consider the amount of time Jones needed for proper recovery, perhaps LaFell needed was the same thing all along. Maybe after a full offseason to get his body 100 percent for training camp, he can ultimately hold up better this year.
When LaFell first suits up for the Bengals, watch how much they end up using him in the slot. That's likely where he'll spend a large share of his time as Cincinnati attempts to replace of Mohamed Sanu, another receiver who left in free agency.
LaFell has spent 36.7 percent of his career running routes from the slot, according to ESPN Stats & Information.