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Around The AFC East: New England Patriots

It's time to get to the 2nd part of this week's feature. 

Helping us examine the Patriots' depth at wide receiver is MaPatsFan of Pats Pulpit:

Matty I: Even though I do dislike the Patriots, I'm always interested in training camp battles.  One that intrigues me is the Pats' WR battle beyond Randy Moss and Wes Welker.  Jabar Gaffney has played well, from what I've seen, in New England.  Then there's also Kelley Washington, who wasn't used much last year, and Chad Jackson, who can't seem to stay healthy.  How do you see this battle playing out and are you confident in the depth of the WR spot?

MaPatsFan: You dislike the Patriots?  I'm hurt, crushed even!!  ;-)  Jabar Gaffney is, in my mind, the Pats' most underrated receiver.  He's made some amazing catches during the most clutch situations (ie: a last minute toenail scraper against Baltimore).  I'm really looking for some big things to come from him and here's why.  For the first half of 2007, the passing formula was fairly straightforward: look for Moss.  If Moss isn't open, dump to Welker in the slot.  Towards the latter half of 2007 and into the playoffs, Moss was surrounded by DBs, so his role was more that of drawing coverage.  The aerial assault that was so prevalent became less successful and Brady had to go the slot more often.  He also started using the running game more.  Almost non-existent, our RBs (Maroney and Faulk) started getting more chances at the rock.  Welker is awesome in the slot and Moss is Moss, but I think they're both speciality WRs - Moss down the sidelines and
Welker for underneath to move the chains.  We need a guy in between and I think that's Gaffney.

There's been tons written about Chad Jackson as he's the heir apparent to Donte Stallworth's position.  If you remember, Stallworth was fairly under utilized in 2007 which confuses me.  Maybe it's because Welker and Moss were sooooo dominant, who knows.  However, the great thing about Stallworth was he had great hands like all WRs should, but he was like a running back after catching the ball; his YAC was very good and he could take a beating and hand one out.  Chad is supposed to be that guy, but an email exchange with a reporter from the Boston Globe made me worry a bit.  He caught Chad running the wrong route on the field without a defense.  I'd heard Jackson has, in the past, had trouble with the playbook and this gives me pause.

As far as depth, we have 9 WRs currently on the roster.  Now, I'm sure some of them will get cut as we progress through training camp, but we'll have to wait and see how things pan out.  I will say the Pats can't use the formula that was so prevalent in the first half of 2007; there's too much film available to be successful with that formula.  During OTAs, Brady has commented to the media that they're, "...working on some new things."  Who knows what that is and I'm sure he's not going to let the cat out of the bag, but I'm looking forward to some surprises.  The Pats rotate in WRs for different packages, but in my mind, I see the starting receivers like this: Moss, Welker, Jackson (if he can a) stay healthy and b) learn the playbook), and Gaffney brought in for speciality stuff and to provide a long ball choice other than Moss.

My Take: I'm with MaPatsFan here on two things.  First, why in the world was Stallworth so underutilized last year?  When healthy, he's a very good receiver who, like MaPatsFan says above, can run after the catch better than most receivers.  He's god speed, quickness, and the power to break tackles.  I'm glad he's out of New England, that's for sure.  I think Bill Belichick and company missed the boat on this one; Stallworth should have been used more.

Secondly, I'd even go one step farther than MaPatsFan and say that Gaffney is one of the most underrated receivers in the entire league.  He got  a bad wrap in Houston because of the expectations that were put on him as the #33 overall pick back in '02.  But he never had a QB who could get him the ball.  In New England, he's found the perfect situation.  He does make some clutch catches and I like how he will work the entire field.  He's just one of the many solid pickups by that New England front office over the past several years.

Thanks to MaPatsFan for helping us out.  Head over to Pats Pulpit to see my response to his question.

Back with the final part of this week's installment of ATAFCE in a bit...