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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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