It’s very hard to see if there’s going to be one breakout, clear number one wide receiver for Tom Brady to throw to, but the New England Patriots have always succeeded, even without a clear default passing option like Wes Welker has been over the last six seasons, giving Kamar Aiken and rookie Aaron Dobson a chance to shine.
On paper, it looks like Danny Amendola, arriving from the St. Louis Rams, will be more involved in the receiving game than anyone else if he doesn’t succumb to the injuries that have plagued his career over the last couple of seasons. Michael Jenkins, added in March from the Minnesota Vikings after being released by the team, caught 40 passes for 449 yards and is going to be one of the more-known targets for Brady to throw to.
There’s always the option of simply running a lot more. Stevan Ridley had a breakout second season in the league, rushing for 1263 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry. The Patriots mixed it up very well last season and there’s no reason they won’t be doing it this year as well, but the lack of go-to-guys for Brady, who has worked with relatively anonymous receiving crops in the past, might be slightly worrying after letting go of both Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who led the team in receptions last season.
There are the tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but injuries, especially for Gronkowski, probably the best red zone threat in the NFL at his position, might deny them the opportunity to contribute as you would usually expect them to.
Dobson is a second-round receiver coming out of Marshall, and there’s a good chance he’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch the ball next season, considering how thing the Patriots appear at wide receiver. Looking at other players taken at his position over the last few years and around the same draft pick position – Randall Cobb and Torrey Smith, there’s a good chance Dobson will get a chance to catch about 30-40 passes next season.
Another player who might turn out to be a pleasant surprise is Kamar Aiken, entering his third NFL season, since waiting to catch his first pass. Yet after two seasons on mostly being on the practice squad with the Bills and the Patriots, early looks from him in the preseason workouts, not to mention his impressive build (6’2, 213), lead some to think he’s going to be a lot more than just some marginal receiver who gets a snap or two in a few games during the season. The Patriots need to get creative in helping Brady keep up his annual huge numbers, and surprises like Dobson and Aiken might be the guys to do it.