For as much success as the New England Patriots have had since the 2000 season, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, they aren't known as a team that utilizes the wide receiver position as much as some other notable NFL teams. Instead, Bill Belichick prefers to have tight ends play a significant role in the offense, as well as running backs who have the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. It's a wholly unique offensive system that has worked for many years, including some that haven't featured a traditional "go-to" receiver on the outside of the field.
Even so, since the 2000 season there have been some notable receivers in the ranks of the Patriots occasionally bucking the trend. In fact, there have been some all-time NFL greats at the position, and they were used thoroughly during their time in New England. Of course, along with that comes some receivers who weren't so desirable, and who couldn't succeed despite the presence of perhaps the best quarterback to ever play the game in Tom Brady. There's a nice mix of both, so let's take a look at which receivers excelled in New England, and which ones just couldn't cut the mustard.
Ranked below are the seven best and eight worst Patriots wide receivers since 2000.
15 Joey Galloway (Worst)
Most people probably forget that this even happened, but Galloway played on the Patriots for the 2009 season, when he was well past his prime and almost heading into retirement. Belichick has shown a penchant over the years for taking players in the twilight of their career, attempting to still get some productivity out of them. It didn't work with Galloway, who was near the end of his rope after many years as an upper-tier receiver in the league for the Seahawks and Buccaneers. Injuries were starting to mount up for him around this time, and he was only in New England for one year before moving on. Galloway was definitely a quality receiver, but by the time he had gotten to the Patriots, he had little gas left in the tank, and his run there fizzled out almost as soon as it began.
14 Deion Branch (Best)
Unfortunately, Branch struggled with injuries for his entire career, and because of it never did quite reach his statistical potential. When he was on the field, however, he proved himself to be one of the better receivers in the league, and a favorite target of Tom Brady for several seasons. In fact, he did two stints with the Patriots, coming back to the team for the 2011 and 2012 seasons after some time spent in Seattle. Branch was a marquee player on the offense for the first era of Brady & Belichick dominance, and was a valuable piece to several Super Bowl teams. Had he been healthy for the entirety of his time in New England, he would have definitely been higher on this ranking. As it stands, he was just a "good" receiver instead of a "great" one.
13 Andre Davis (Worst)
After bottoming out in Cleveland as a second round draft pick, Davis was supposed to be one of the classic Belichick reclamation projects, but even he couldn't turn his career around. Indeed, Davis never got on track in New England, and he quickly moved on from the team the following season after he was unable to establish any kind of consistency or rapport with Brady. His numbers were completely underwhelming in his lone 2005 season with the Patriots, despite getting a chance to start several games, which were most likely an effort to get him more involved in the offense. Instead, Davis remained a journeyman receiver for the rest of his career, and never lived up to his relatively high expectations coming out of the draft. All in all, a major disappointment for New England, but they were able to cut ties relatively early.
12 Danny Amendola (Best)
While he may not be a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver, Amendola has proven his worth to the New England offense time and time again. He's used as a decoy a lot, and then when defenses forget to pay attention to him he can burn them for a big gain. He's very much a "utility" kind of player on offense, but very effective at the same time. Amendola is exactly the kind of player Belichick loves to utilize, and have on the field more often than not. He may not have the skill set of someone like Julio Jones, but Amendola is still an important part of the Patriots' offensive attack, and has been a significant contributor on two Super Bowl teams now. All things considered, that's reason enough for inclusion on this ranking, and Amendola will remain on the Pats roster for as long as Brady and Belichick stay there, most likely.
11 Bethel Johnson (Worst)
Drafted in the second round of the 2003 draft, Johnson was supposed to be on of Tom Brady's list of top targets that could develop along with him. Instead, Johnson's most notable contributions during his three years in New England came on special teams as a kick returner. He never played much a role in the offense, and they were probably better off for it. Johnson very much turned out to be a bust, and it's not surprising that he retired from football all together in 2006, after spending his final year in the league with the Vikings. No question about, Belichick has missed on numerous homegrown receivers over the years, and spending a second round selection on a player as bad as Johnson was definitely a cringeworthy draft choice. Not one of the finer moments in his drafting history as a head coach.
10 Troy Brown (Best)
Brown spent the entirety of his 14-year career in New England, but only about half of it was spent playing with Brady. However, those years were the best of Brown's carer, and it's not a surprise that he saw a spike in production when he had such a quality quarterback throwing him the ball. Brown played a key role on the earliest of the Brady-led Patriots teams, and turned into the one of the better receivers in the entire league. He spent a few more years in somewhat of a reduced role, before retiring altogether after the 2007 season. No question, Brown is one of the hallmark players of the early years of the Brady and Belichick tandem. Looking back on it, he's one of the better receiving targets that they've had available to them. In fact, Brown is very underrated today, not usually receiving the credit that he deserves for his contributions to those first couple of New England Super Bowls.
9 Chad Jackson (Worst)
Chad Jackson was another second round draft bust at wide receiver, selected by Belichick. Jackson was yet another ill-fated attempt to draft and develop a receiver to play with Brady over the long haul, and it failed miserably. He only spent his rookie year in 2006 getting any kind of significant playing time, and it was clear that he just wasn't cut out to be a contributing receiver in the professional ranks. His numbers were abysmal, and this wasn't lost on Belichick, who significantly downgraded his playing time the following year, before moving on from him entirely in 2008. As for Jackson, he spent one more year in the league with the Broncos in that '08 season, before retiring from football. Definitely a disappointment, and another miss for Belichick on drafting a wide receiver.
8 David Givens (Best)
While he may not have a Hall Of Fame-worthy resume to his credit, Givens was actually one of the more underrated receiver that New England has had over the last 17 years. Contrary to some other names on this ranking, he was actually a homegrown Patriots draft pick that worked out to some degree, as he was taken in the seventh round of the 2002 draft. Eventually, he worked his way up to starting status on the Patriots roster, and was targeted heavily in the passing game for several seasons along the way. He was never extended to a long-term contact however, and moved on to the Titans for one year in 2006 before retiring altogether. His career may have been brief, but Givens was a solid receiver, and was actually a good return on a draft pick investment at wide receiver, something that Belichick could never claim often.
7 Sam Aiken (Worst)
After five seasons with the Bills, Aiken took his game to New England in 2008, where he was supposed to serve as a supplementary receiving target. In his two years with the Pats, he was a definite disappointment, and was never effective to the level that some felt he could achieve in Belichick's system. He was let go relatively quickly, leaving after the 2009 season, and his career wouldn't last much longer after that. Overall, Aiken just never really found his fit with the Patriots or in the league in general, despite playing for eight seasons, which is not an easy thing to accomplish. He was a journeyman talent at the end of the day, and easily replaceable for New England's purposes.
6 Julian Edelman (Best)
Edelman is another seventh-round draft pick who has paid dividends over the years, and become one of Tom Brady's favorite targets in the receiving game. He's steadily improved, and his playing time has upped in recent years as a result, consistently being targeted over 100 times in a regular, healthy season. While there's a legitimate argument to be made that Brady has made Edelman more productive than he could ever hope to be on a team that didn't have such a good quarterback, Edelman still deserves credit for working his way up the ranks, and becoming a surefire, go-to target for a system that doesn't always have to feature a wide receiver. He's proven himself in the postseason too, with a great game against the Falcons in February that helped seal a ridiculous comeback victory.
5 Charles Johnson (Worst)
By the time he got to New England, Johnson's career was already winding down. He played one season with the Pats in 2001, and his usually league-average numbers took a nosedive into the bottom tier of the league. Only a spot starter, Johnson never figured to be a big part of the offense in New England, but he still managed to underachieve even with the lack of expectations. It's no surprise he was gone after just one year with the team, as it was clear he and Brady couldn't get on the same page. In his prime, Johnson was an acceptable NFL receiver, but with the Patriots, he showed just how far his game had fallen since then. He would play just one more NFL season in 2002 with the Broncos before calling it quits for good.
4 Wes Welker (Best)
One of the most popular players of his era, Welker was the antithesis of what an NFL receiver is imagined to be. His shiftiness and elusive playing style made him a star all of his own, and he was the perfect player to be featured in Belichick's system, which was open to featuring a playing style like this. For six seasons he was one of Brady's favorite targets, and put up astounding numbers year after year. He never did end up winning a ring during his time in New England, as the Pats were overcome by the Giants in both Super Bowls during this time period, but he's still one of the hallmark players in franchise history, and key part of a truly devastating offense that ended up being one of the best of all-time. Welker would leave after the 2012 season, playing two seasons in Denver before calling it quits because of concussion risks.
3 Brandon Lloyd (Worst)
This one could go either way, but when Lloyd signed with the Pats in the offseason of 2012, he was coming off of a ridiculously great 2011 season that provided him his one and only Pro Bowl appearance. He was a league veteran at this point, but Belichick still believed that he had some more elite seasons left in him. That didn't turn out to be the case, and Lloyd failed to breach the 1,000-yard mark in his one and only season with the Patriots. He certainly didn't play poorly, but to say that Lloyd was a disappointment on the Pats roster would be an understatement, considering the amazing season he had in Denver the year prior. He was let go after the 2012 campaign, and played just one more year before retiring. Definitely a miss on this free agent signing for New England.
2 Randy Moss (Best)
Out of all of his various reclamation projects, this is Belichick's greatest work. Moss was considered to be washed up and on his way out, after two mediocre seasons in Oakland that came after years of dominance with the Vikings. Much to everyone's surprise, he ended up signing with New England, and turned his career back around, producing one of the all-time greatest seasons by a wide receiver in league history during the 2007 campaign. Moss was absolutely lethal in this version of the Pats offense, and he was once again one of the best receivers in the league, after that down spell he had suffered with the Raiders. This wasn't a popular decision at the time, but Belichick knew that Moss had some elite game left in him, and it ultimately turned out to be a great move for both Moss and Patriots.
1 Chad Johnson (Worst)
It's often forgotten now, but Johnson did indeed spend one season in a Patriots uniform in 2011, and had his only underwhelming season in the NFL. It was also his last NFL season, and for good reason, as he could never get on the same page as Brady, and was targeted progressively less as the season wore on. At the time, many thought that Johnson would go the same way that Moss did when he joined New England, assuming that Belichick would be able to work the same magic that he had earlier. It couldn't have been further from the truth. Johnson was nothing short of a complete letdown while he was with the Patriots. Not even having Brady throwing to him could light a spark, and he was mercifully let go after the season ended, and retired from the NFL soon after that. He was one of the most failed experiments in the history of the league, and Johnson never found traction with the Patriots.
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