It came to my attention that a few people are severely underestimating how good the receiving corps Tom Brady gets to work with. When Randy Moss left last season, people were expecting Brady to regress as the only name receiver left on the roster was Wes Welker. Brady proves his critics wrong and posts the second highest touch down total of his career was throwing an astonishingly low 4 interceptions.
Brady went on to win the MVP award by unanimous decision, which he did truly deserve. My issue came when Brady was given credit for doing so much work, with a less than stellar receiving corps. Were they really that bad? They don't get quite the attention of the flashy receivers, but the Patriots receivers are well above average, and perhaps the best in the league.
Half of the New England receiving corps looks like the dream team of 2004. Chad Ochocinco is arguably one the best wide receivers of the best decade, but hasn't posted superstar numbers since the 2007 season. Deion Branch is well past his prime, and after a terrible stint with the Seahawks, many people wrote him off completely. Wes Welker, now 30 and just 18 months removed from knee surgery seems like the only viable veteran receiver. Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Matt Slater, Danny Woodhead and Taylor Price fill in the rest of the group. All of these guys are young and relatively inexperienced.
On paper, this seems like a recipe for disaster. There is not one wide receiver that you could place in top 10 for yards, or touch downs. If I didn't know anybetter, I'd call this one of the worst groups in the league. Fortunately, that's not the case.
Individually, these players may not be hall of famers, but together, they form the perfect receiving corps. Let's start on the outside:
Branch is on the wrong side of 30, and standing at 5'9'', he is far from an imposing presence, but he offers something many people can't; experience with Tom Brady. Many would argue that his skills are not where they used to be, and I will not argue that, but the relationship between a wide receiver and quarterback is like nothing else in sports. Branch can always stay on the same page as Brady, something not many other receivers would be able to do.
Ochocinco is a long ways from his days as a perennial pro bowler. He is also on the wrong side of 30 and often injured. There is one thing that has always stayed the same with Chad, and that's his ability to distract the opposing team. Whether or not he is catching 100 passes or 50, someone will always follow Chad deep, leaving the middle open Brady to exploit, where he does most of his damage. Without a deep threat, Brady would have a much tougher time doing so.
Taylor Price and Matt Slater are two young wide receivers with blazing speed. Brady's exceptional offensive line allows him to exploit the play action deep pass like no other. Slater and Price aren't like Moss, and they never will be but they stretch the field, once again allowing Brady to exploit the middle because of all the attention deep.
On to Wes Welker, one of the most underrated receivers in the league. His ability to get open in the slot is like no other in the game. He doesn't having blazing speed, or crazy athleticism, which causes people to forget about him. Plain and simple, Welker get's open and catches whatever Brady throws his way. Three consecutive seasons from 2007-2010 of 100 or more receptions puts him among the NFL elite. When it's 3rd down and you need 5 yards, there isn't a single wide receiver in the league that you would take over Welker.
Out of the backfield, you have a slippery Wes Welker like player. He gets open, gets yards after the catch and makes the plays on 3rd down. Danny Woodhead is a younger version of Kevin Faulk. He won't wow you with his rushing abilities, and he won't light the world on fire with his athleticism, but boy can he catch the ball. Need a couple yards? Screen play to Woodhead.
What do you get when cross Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez? Give up? The best tight end in the NFL. Hernandez is mistmatch for opposing linebackers. His combination of size and speed can only be covered by the best of the best. Hernandez owns the field in between the 20's, creating a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. Ron Gronkowski on the other hand, is 6'6'', 265 pounds of muscle, running over anything in his way. In the redzone, no one can touch him, giving Brady the perfect check down option when he is in trouble.
The difference between the Patriots receiving corps and that of the other 31 teams is simple; roles. Every player has a role. On a specific play, you can predict what every Patriot receiver is going to do, and what route they are going to run. The problem is, you can't cover them, because they run that one route, or fit that one scheme so perfectly that they become untouchable. You can argue until you're blue in the face, that Calvin Johnson is a better all around receiver than Wes Welker, and I wouldn't argue with you. But when I want that one receiver to one thing really well, I can find him on the Patriots.
Find me a team that can do everything this well, I dare you.