By: Bob George/BosSports.net
February 07, 2003

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Next in a series of positional analysis of the 2002 New England Patriots. Today: Receivers.

Honk if you still prefer Napoleon Harris over Daniel Graham.

Honk again if you know the Patriot offense better than Donald Hayes.

These two gentlemen were supposed to be key cogs in the 2002 Patriot offense. Both men wound up being busts in different ways. One merely didn't perform like a first round draft pick, the other merely didn't perform, period.

Fixing Graham may not be that monumental a task. Fixing Hayes may not be either, actually. It's just that the former's plight can be written off to being a rookie, while the other guy is a bit more perplexing. Maybe a fairy will wave a magic wand over Hayes during the offseason, and duh, now he finally gets what Charlie Weis wanted him to do all along.

The failures of these two guys, along with the debilitating injury Troy Brown suffered against Kansas City, helped bring about the decline of the Patriot offense in 2002. With Brown and Graham nursing owies and Hayes suffering brainlock, the Patriots pretty much had to place all their receiving chips on David Patten, Deion Branch and Christian Fauria. These guys aren't all that bad, but when they become your bread and butter, it isn't all that good.

Brown came off his hallmark 2001 season with a disappointing 2002 that he'd just as soon forget about. Still very much the beloved and talented player he is, Brown's knee injury pretty much was the season for him. It is ironic that in the game he was injured, he riddled the Chiefs for a Patriot record 16 receptions. But he missed two games due to the injury, and finished the year with 319 fewer receiving yards than 2001 (on only four fewer catches, however). Brown may unfortunately be most remembered for his fumbled punt against the Jets on Week 16 which pretty much caved in the season for the entire team right there.

After peaking in Week 4 at San Diego with 13 catches for 128 yards, Branch went invisible for the rest of the season. He would catch only 14 more passes and would miss the final three games of the season. Forced into more of a spotlight than he was used to, Patten caught more passes for more yards in '02, but never had a double-digit reception game. Not at all a clutch third-down receiver like Brown, Patten's low point came against Tennessee, where he had only one grab for five yards.

In that game, it was revealed that the Patriot coaches had told sources that Patten "fell asleep" on the game's pivotal play. Tom Brady threw a pass at Patten, the ball caromed off his back and fell into the arms of Richard Coady, who ran the pick in for a touchdown. What would have been a Patriot comeback instead was the linchpin for a 24-7 loss.

After a promising start against Pittsburgh, Hayes sank deep into an abyss in which he admitted he wasn't learning the Patriot playbook. Following the Week 6 loss to Green Bay, Hayes had only 11 receptions on the season. He would make only one grab the rest of the way, and was de-activated for four games. The free agent from Carolina was thought to be a good get, with his size (6-4) being a real plus. Instead, all Hayes did was reinforce Patriot Nation's beliefs that tall, fast receivers from Wisconsin are vastly overrated.

Fauria turned out to be arguably the plum of the 2002 free agent crop for the Patriots. Brought into a mix with Graham and New Orleans castoff Cam Cleeland, Fauria led the Patriot tight ends in pass receptions with 27 catches for 253 yards and pretty much kept Cleeland on the sideline for much of the year. Cleeland was let go by the Saints largely because of his penchant for injuries, but in 2002 he was simply outplayed by Fauria.

Graham has a ton of upside to declare him a complete bust, and if he stays healthy, should contribute greatly to the 2003 offense. In what little action he did see, Graham showed incredible speed and quickness for someone of his ilk. But Graham needs to learn how to run better routes and how to get open more consistently. Exacerbating Graham's poor rookie season was the play of Giant rookie Jeremy Shockey, the "other" tight end of the 2002 draft class. Shockey badly outplayed Graham in '02 and won that personal battle in a slamdunk.

There exists the chance that Bill Belichick may go wideout in the draft, if for no other reason than to merely add more depth to the roster. Rookie David Givens showed some promise, but several key dropped passes at critical moments revealed a player who is not of primetime quality at the moment. If Graham fails as a pro tight end, Belichick will add to his lousy track record at drafting tight ends (Arther Love, Jabari Holloway, Dave Stachelski). The smart thinking here is to avoid a wideout until at least the third round, no earlier.

You have to figure that Brown will bounce back, Hayes will smarten up and Graham will "get it". If all three of these things happen, nobody will be knocking the Patriot receiving corps anymore.

Though you may still wish the Patriots drafted Harris.

Next installment: Offensive line.


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