If there is one skill position that New England does not "break the bank" for, it is the wide receiver position. It is easy to find "cast-off" wide receivers instead of the top tier, big name receivers if you have Tom Brady as your quarterback. And this is what Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots management have done.
I want to make it clear that I am not saying Belichick has not tried to improve his wide receiver personnel over the years. What I am saying, however, is that Belichick has made a habit of finding "middle of the pack" receivers that he thinks will fit into his offensive system. Yes, there is the occasion where the Patriots go after the household name (Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco) but this is usually after that player has had issues with their previous teams and as a result, have a low stock. In other words, these household names have to come on a bargain deal, or else they will not be coming to New England.
With all of that being said, it is remarkable to look at some of the starting wide receivers Tom Brady has had over the years. Many of these wideouts were good during their time in New England, but did not have much success elsewhere. This makes you wonder what Brady would have done if he had gotten to play with All Pro receivers for the majority of his career like many other of the great quarterbacks.
So, who have been Tom Brady's best starting wideouts? Keep in mind this article will focus solely on Tom Brady's number one and two wide receivers dating back to 2001. I realize there is always turnover during the middle of the season, so for this article, number one and two wide receivers will be established by games started and not receiving statistics.
15 Brandon Tate (2010)
I was surprised to see that Brandon Tate was a starting receiver for the Patriots, even if it was only for one season. It just shows you that New England has had some below average starting receivers during the Belichick/Brady era. Tate had a big impact on special teams for the Patriots, but other than that there are not many good things you can say about his tenure in New England. This is especially true when you consider the fact that New England used a third-round pick to select Tate and as we know, New England is usually pretty good at turning third round selections into quality players.
Overall, Tate only spent two seasons with the team. He recorded 24 receptions for 432 yards and three touchdowns before being released.
14 Aaron Dobson (2013)
Aaron Dobson was another wide receiver draft choice by Belichick that did not work out. Dobson did show promise as a rookie, but unfortunately for Dobson, it was not a happy ending with the Patriots. Dobson was never able to take a step forward his successful rookie season. In addition, he struggled with injuries and as a result became unreliable for the team. Dobson also had major issues with drops and earned the nickname "Dropson" from some Patriots fans.
Eventually, all of these struggles led to Dobson being released by the Patriots. He went on to spend some time with the Detroit Lions before being released. Overall, Dobson did not play a single snap this season, but he did recently sign a futures contract with the Arizona Cardinals.
13 Keshawn Martin (2015)
Keshawn Martin was only with the Patriots for a limited amount of time. He only played in nine games with the team, starting 8. Martin was forced into this starting role after injuries to players like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Martin was actually not a bad player during his brief stint with the Pats and did show some signs that he could be a long-term third or fourth receiver/punt returner in New England. He was a smart player and also showed the ability that he was able to make things happen after the catch.
Despite his momentum, Martin was not able to lock down a permanent roster spot with the Patriots this past training camp. Most of this can be attributed to health issues and with the need for healthy bodies, New England decided to move on.
12 Reche Caldwell (2006)
Most Patriots fans will remember Reche Caldwell for his two big drops in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. If not for these drops, who knows how the game would have turned out and maybe the Patriots would have another Super Bowl victory. Predictably, Caldwell would end up being cut the following year by the ruthless Belichick.
Now to be fair to Caldwell, he did lead the Patriots in receiving during his lone season as a starter with 61 catches for 760 yards. However, this was mostly due to a lack of talent at the position that season, which is ultimately why the Patriots had an entirely different receiving crew the next year.
Though Caldwell wasn't the best on the field, he was good at breaking the law as he went on a crime spree relating to gambling and drugs after his football career.
11 Brandon Lloyd (2012)
Brandon Lloyd had a pretty decent season in New England, statistically speaking. He had over 900 receiving yards and showed the ability to make difficult catches. Despite these positive attributes, most Pats followers know that Lloyd's time with the team ended up being a disappointment. It almost seemed like Lloyd lacked a sense of urgency and did not have the "it" factor that most Patriots players do. In the end, it was obvious that this feeling was shared by New England management, as Lloyd was released even though he was willing to take a pay-cut.
Overall, Lloyd is one of the rare players that experienced more success when not playing for the Patriots. One can make the argument age had a big factor in this, but it was clear to anyone that Lloyd was not remotely as effective in New England as he was with the Rams or Denver Broncos.
10 Chris Hogan (2016)
It is too early to put Chris Hogan higher on this list. Nonetheless, I am curious to know why the Bills were so anxious to let Chris Hogan go, especially to a division rival. All he has done since coming to New England is make big plays. Hogan has been the reliable deep threat the Patriots have been missing at the wide receiver position for many years. It has been nice to see the Patriots open up the playbook a bit this year and throw balls deep downfield. Hogan is very fast and I can see how he earned the nickname "7/11" during his time with the Dolphins (as he is always open).
Overall, it was hard to put Hogan higher on the list because he has only played one season with the team and only 12 games with Brady. I am sure that he will move his way up this list as time passes.
9 Brandon Lafell (2014)
Many people remember Brandon Lafell for his second year with the Patriots. Lafell was coming off a major foot surgery and struggled the entire season with drops and inconsistency, earning the nickname "Ladrop" from some fans and media.
However, to only remember Lafell during these tough times would be unfair. After all, Lafell was the number two receiver on a Super Bowl winning team and it is very arguable the team would not have won the championship without him. He was a major reason the Patriots were able to beat the Ravens earlier in the post-season by catching the winning touchdown, which was just one of many big plays he made throughout the year. He also caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl game itself. Overall, Pats fans know that Lafell was a big part of the Super Bowl winning team and he was a reliable weapon for Brady.
8 Danny Amendola (2013-Present)
Danny Amendola never actually started enough games to be considered a starting wide receiver for the Patriots, but that is mostly due to injury. If you recall his first game as a Patriot, it was clear he was meant to be the team's number one option. He has also played with the Patriots for several years. For those reasons, we are going to consider Amendola as a starter for the purposes of this article.
Amendola has consistently been one of the team's most clutch receivers and he is a player Brady loves to go to on third down because of Amendola's reliability. Amendola was also huge for the team during their 2014 Super Bowl run. He caught touchdown passes in the AFC Championship game and Super Bowl. Overall, Amendola has not turned out to be the replacement for Wes Welker like many thought he would be, but that does not mean he has not been productive for the Patriots.
7 David Patten (2001-2002, 2004)
David Patten never "wowed" with his statistics, but he was reliable and consistent during his tenure with the Patriots. In his best statistical year, Patten had 61 catches for 824 yards and five touchdowns. However, Patten's most significant contribution to the Patriots was in the 2001 postseason and it is arguable that the Patriots do not win a Super Bowl in 2001 without his production. He was a very reliable target at a time when the Patriots offense was not the juggernaut it is today, and this can be seen in the fact that he had touchdown receptions in both the AFC Championship game and the Super Bowl.
Overall, Patten is a very underrated Patriot, and Belichick knew this. After Patten had a failed comeback attempt with the Patriots, Belichick stated Patten was one of the hardest workers he coached and also stated that Patten had a great career.
6 David Givens (2004-2005)
For being drafted in the seventh round, David Givens had a very productive career (what is it with the Patriots missing on early-round wide receivers, but finding gems in the later rounds?). Givens was never able to record a 1,000-yard season, but that did not mean he was not productive. His two best regular seasons of 874 and 738 yards receiving are very respectable, especially for a seventh rounder. Basically, he was another tough, reliable receiver that would come through when the team needed it the most.
However, like Patten, Givens saved his best moments for the postseason. Givens caught a touchdown pass in seven straight playoff games for the Patriots. Givens was able to use this success to secure a big contract with the Tennessee Titans, but unfortunately suffered a severe injury and never recovered.
5 Troy Brown (2001-2002, 2003, 2006)
Troy Brown is a typical "do your job" Patriot. He was a late round draft pick (eighth round) that turned out to be a steal. He was a very versatile player and did whatever the team asked him to do. This versatility showed when Brown had stints on defense and recorded three interceptions in a single season.
As a receiver, Brown was the first to start the trend of very good slot receivers in New England. He was very capable of catching tons of short passes and turning them into long gains after the catch. He was also very good at returning punts, which shows how effective he is with the ball in his hands. Finally, Brown was one of the most clutch receivers New England has ever had and it seemed like any time New England needed a big play, Brown was the guy.
4 Deion Branch (2003, 2005, 2011)
Deion Branch was a very productive receiver in New England and as a result, he was able to win a Super Bowl MVP. Branch was also somewhat of a savior for the Patriots during his second stint with the team. If you recall, the Patriots had just traded Randy Moss and were lacking talent at the wideout spot. The Patriots were then able to re-acquire Branch and he was very productive, even though he was struggling with the Seahawks prior to the trade.
Overall, Branch had two different stints with the Patriots and both were very productive. For those curious on what Branch did outside of New England. He was never able to record more than 750 receiving yards in a season, something he did with the Patriots three times. Yeah, having Brady as your QB sure helps.
3 Wes Welker (2007-2012)
Wes Welker is one of the most underappreciated Patriots of all time. The major reasons for this attitude towards Welker are that he had some big drops in multiple playoff games and also because he criticized Belichick to the media after signing with Denver.
However, it is important to look at the big picture with Welker and just realize how great of a player he was for the Patriots. He was pretty much guaranteed to make 100 or more catches a season and he was also very durable. I do not know if I have seen any receiver take the amount of punishment that Welker took during his time in New England. He would go to the dirty areas to make the catch even though he knew he was going to get hit hard. Overall, Welker should be remembered more for these attributes than anything else.
2 Julian Edelman (2013-Present)
Julian Edelman has been Tom Brady's favorite target ever since Wes Welker left the team in free agency. Edelman was able to help Patriots fans forget about Welker rather quickly with his production and gritty style of play. Edelman is similar to Welker in many, ways including the ability to catch multiple passes a game and be lethal in punt returning.
However, there is one major difference between the two and that is, people mistake Edelman for a slot receiver only, when in fact he has tons of success running routes on the outside. Another part of Edelman's game that goes unnoticed is his tremendous blocking for a receiver. Overall, Edelman has been a very clutch receiver for Brady, which is reflected in postseason stats. Edelman leads the New England franchise in postseason catches.
1 Randy Moss (2007-2009)
The easiest decision on this list was putting Randy Moss number one. The scary part is that Moss was past his "young days" when he came to New England. Despite this, Moss was still was able to set multiple records while teaming up with Brady, especially in the 2007 season where they both set touchdown records.
The importance of Moss was that he was something Brady did not have his entire career: a receiver that could do everything. Sure, Brady has had receivers that could run short routes really well, or even intermediate routes, but he never had that one guy that could do it all as a receiver, until Moss came. Overall, Moss was a very dynamic player in New England. Could you imagine a younger Moss paired with Brady? This duo would probably have every quarterback/wide receiver record that exists.