With Welker Gone, Patriots Have a Big Void on 3rd Down

Ian Logue
March 14, 2013 at 10:43am ET

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Wednesday another era came to an end here in New England after veteran wide receiver Wes Welker agreed to terms on a contract with the Denver Broncos, which now has the Patriots having to start the process of figuring out how they'll be operating offensively next season.

Welker was obviously one of New England's most productive players, but one area that they're going to miss him most is on 3rd down.  Last season the veteran receiver accounted for 30 of the 92 completions Tom Brady had.  The next closest player was Danny Woodhead who had 13, followed by Aaron Hernandez (12), Brandon Lloyd (11) and Rob Gronkowski (11).

With Welker gone, the Patriots have big shoes to fill. (FILE:USPresswire)
Of those 30 3rd down receptions 21 of them were first downs, nearly double that of the next closest player (Rob Gronkowski).

Overall Welker led the team with 72 first downs last season, with Brandon Lloyd right behind him with 50.  With Welker gone and Lloyd rumored to be next, both players accounted for 122 of the 256 first downs the team had in 2012.  Clearly 2013 is going to potentially feature more or less an entirely new group, which the Patriots started working on not long after the Welker news was announced.

They signed Rams free agent receiver Danny Amendola to a 5-year contract, which is a start.  He'll give them a solid weapon out of the slot but it's highly unlikely he'll be a guy who will catch 100+ passes and shoulder the load that Welker did.

He was the Rams best 3rd down receiver, which will certainly help as the Patriots start formulating a plan heading into next season.  According to Pro-Football-Reference Amendola was the Rams leading 3rd down receiver from 2009-2012, having been targeted 113 times with 67 completions, including four touchdowns.

Josh McDaniels familiarity with Amendola will help with the learning curve that he'll have to get over, and the fact that they've signed him so early in the offseason will also help.  He'll also have minicamps and OTA's to hopefully get acclimated with the Patriots' system.

However, the Patriots are now officially in transition offensively and will certainly have a different look next season.  They're fortunate that they have Gronkowski and Hernandez as building blocks as they start putting things back together, but the surrounding cast is certainly changing.  Hopefully as the next pieces are added New England continues at least bringing in guys who are under 30 and are proven commodities.  They've had too many question marks in recent years with some of the veterans they've tried to bring in, and obviously we've seen how that's worked out.

Clearly now with Welker in the rear view the Patriots have some moves that still need to be made.  Hopefully after letting go of one of their most productive receivers ever, the pressure will definitely be on to make sure they bring in players who can keep the chains moving next season.