By: Bob George/BosSports.net
May 01, 2007

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Next in a series of positional analysis for the 2006 New England Patriots. Today: receivers.

The gang who works on the famous ABC television show is made up of good folk who are half miracle workers and half Good Samaritans.

They travel in an RV, show up unannounced at someone's broken down shack, kick 'em out for a couple of weeks, and they do a complete overhaul of the crib. The homeowners come back, nearly drop dead when they see their new home, cry a thousand tears for the TV cameras, and make everyone watching at home go something like "Ohhhhhhh!" In between is some unbelievable manual labor which is actually quite a marvel.

It's the Good Samaritan part which is so appealing. The Extreme Makeover crew showed up in our town last year. A family on the outskirts of town lost the man of the house in a truck accident. The farmhouse they were living in was decrepit and in great need of repair. The Makeover crew caught wind of this and completely rebuilt that farmhouse. It was hailed by everyone in the community as the ultimate in magnanimous gestures, and it became exactly the "feel good" story the producers of the show want it to be.

Now you have the Patriots and their retooling of their receiving corps, and you are left to wonder if ABC needs to change the title of their show. Because the Patriots now have the definitive extreme makeover concept, and it has nothing to do with that nice new artificial turf they laid down halfway through last year.

Yes, the Patriots could still use the next Tedy Bruschi, the next Ted Johnson, the next Ty Law and the next Rodney Harrison. But Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli instead addressed another need, that being no go-to guy for Tom Brady. Knowing full well that the team also needed to find the next Deion Branch and the next David Givens, the Patriots went all out and signed literally an all-new receiver corps, casting adrift a former first round tight end in the process.

Despite the fact that both Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney finished well enough to at least put the Patriots in a position to win the whole thing, well enough wasn't good enough any more. The Patriots made two trades and two free agent signings and got themselves a brand new wide receiver unit which should be both the most high maintenance and the most productive in the league. It promises to be explosive, fast, dynamic, and unbelievably, able to count Troy Brown as one of its members.

Everyone is still abuzz over the trade on Sunday which brought Randy Moss to Foxborough for the meager price of only a fourth round draft pick. Moss agreed to take a massive pay cut, from $9 million down to about $3 million. The Patriots are banking that Moss will react to coming to the Patriots like Corey Dillon did three years ago. Dillon, disgruntled in Cincinnati for much the same reasons Moss was in Minnesota and Oakland, never caused the Patriots any problems and did indeed deliver the goods in 2004 before injuries and age came into play. The perception on Moss is that he merely wants to win in the worst way possible, and in New England, he should expect to do just that.

Moss will likely line up alongside Donte Stallworth, the former Eagle wideout who comes to New England amidst a shroud of problems with substance abuse. Both Moss and Stallworth project to expand the field like no other wideout tandem in recent memory, assuming both men stay healthy and play to their vast potential. Tom Brady, who has never been known as a bombardier, will need to bone up on his long passing skills in 2007, as he will have weapons he has never had in his career.

Wes Welker, acquired in a March 5 trade with Miami, will take Brown's old slot receiver role. Welker is a sure-handed receiver who will be most effective in quick slants, hot reads and tough third down routes. Welker can also figure in the team's plans for special teams, as he returned both kickoffs and punts during his time down in south Florida. With safeties respecting the deep threat most all the time, Welker should be an effective third down target for Brady, as he always showed during the two times the Patriots had to play the Dolphins in recent years.

Kelley Washington, a free agent from Cincinnati, might actually find himself on the bubble unless he has a great training camp. He has been largely out of action the last two years, playing in only 12 games in 2005 and 2006 combined. When healthy, he had to always play behind Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry in Cincinnati. With this logjam of Patriot receivers, Washington may be forced into trying to win a job rather than to win a high spot on the depth chart. He has never been seen as a #1 or a #2 guy, his role is more in depth at the position.

Caldwell was the team leader in receptions in 2006, with only 61. This was one of the main reasons Belichick went overboard in upgrading this position. The team might have miscalculated Branch's value, or they figured that replacing Branch in an offense run by Brady would be easy. Such was not the case in 2006, and Caldwell, despite having some good stretches, did not portray himself as a top wideout. Gaffney was a late season acquisition largely due to the failure of Doug Gabriel, and despite some nice numbers in the postseason, remains an unproven commodity which will get a close looking at in training camp. If either of these men might leave, Caldwell would be the "favorite" to get the boot in this case.

Anyone out there remember Chad Jackson? Last year's second round pick is headed towards the "bust" category, unless he figures out a way to stay healthy. He may stick only because of his high draft position from last year, but he won't stick long if he can't take better care of his hamstrings. Failing that, he had better hope for a Moss meltdown if he wants to stay in Foxborough.

As for Brown, he does too many other things to let him go (and don't discount his future use at cornerback, either). Right now, his main gig might be as Moss' mentor. Moss called himself on Sunday "the second best receiver to ever come out of Marshall". Brown, a 1993 Thundering Herd alumnus, would be a terrific liaison for Moss to work his way into the Patriot system, and into a veteran mix of players who have to be skeptical but who, according to reports, gave Belichick the thumbs up sign when the coach asked them if they would mind Moss coming on board.

These receivers should mean a good year for Ben Watson, who now has the tight end spotlight all to himself with Daniel Graham allowed to go home to Denver as a free agent. Watson should find intermediate routes with ease, and a lot of experts are talking Ben Coates numbers for this guy. David Thomas should also see more playing time with Graham gone, but the Patriots also acquired free agent Kyle Brady to pick up the blocking void left by Graham. Brady, the former Jet and Jaguar, is 35 years old and may not be as involved with the offense as Watson expects to be, but is a solid veteran who knows Belichick's system from his days in New York.

With all this receiving talent the Patriots now possess, many experts now make the Patriots the favorite to win Super Bowl XLII. At the very least, the Patriots might induce a visit from that Extreme Makeover RV and wonder what they can do to make their TV show better.

Because nothing they have done beats this. Moss in top form beats any new game room any day.

Next installment: offensive line.


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