Iron sharpens iron.
2013 was a year of transition at the Wide Receiver position for the Patriots. They weathered injuries to almost every receiver, save Julian Edelman, who came through as a breakout go-to star of the offense.
Things should be better for the Pats’ aerial assault in 2014, especially if they can stay healthy. With a year of development under their belt, the Pats collection of second-year pass catchers must be counted on to take significant steps forward.
Here’s our preview of the receivers.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
4. New England Patriots
Stephen Gostkowski booted 65.7 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks last year, the fourth-highest percentage in the league. Those that got returned were taken just 20.8 yards, tied for the sixth-lowest figure in the league. Gostkowski also went 5-of-6 from 50-plus yards, but the Patriots don’t want to ask him to kick as many 50-yard field goals. They want him kicking off deep, after extra points.
Coverage is the name of the game for the Patriots special teams. Opponents averaged just 7.6 yards per punt return, with a long return of just 23 yards. Longtime gunner Mathew Slater (29 solo tackles in the last three years) stays on the roster despite wide receiver emergencies specifically to keep the coverage teams strong. Nate Ebner and Chris White have joined him as professionals on the kick units.
Julian Edelman is a reliable punt returner with some big-play ability. He had a quick trigger on the fair-catch button last year, but that will happen when you are also the leading receiver. The Patriots were docked a few slots for not having a kickoff returner at the moment. Slater is listed atop the depth chart, but he has not practiced much in the offseason. Reggie Dunn fielded kicks during minicamps but was recently waived. There are lots of other candidates (rookie James White returned some kicks at Wisconsin and looks the part, Devin McCourty handled the chores in the past, Josh Boyce returned a few last year, there are scads of undrafted skill-position rookies) but until the Patriots sort things out, they must settle for fourth place.