Training Camp Previews: Wide Receivers

I’m continuing my training camp previews section, and this time, I’m moving onto wide receivers.  Here’s a snapshot of what seems to be a competitive position:

Randy Moss

Heading into 2008, Randy Moss is one of the only wide receivers whose role on the team is cemented in.  He will be the #1 starting wide receiver, no questions asked.  However, it will be interesting to see how much he brings to training camp.  If you remember, last year, he missed all but one day of training camp and the preseason, as rumors even circulated about him being cut or traded.

Chad Jackson

If Chad Jackson is starting opposite Randy Moss come opening weekend, there are going to be a lot of happy Patriots fans.  When the Patriots moved up to select Jackson in the 2006 draft, there seemed to be no limit on his potential.  However, one torn ACL later, things look different.  C-Jack has had 18 months to recover fully from his injury.  Jackson has tremendous footspeed, hands, leaps, and route running ability.  If it all comes together, he could be the #2 threat we’ve been looking for.

Wes Welker

You can never say enough about Wes Welker.  Speed, agility, hands, smarts.  Welker seems to have it all, and he fits the slot position perfectly.  But, and please understand this, he’s not an outside receiver… he doesn’t have the size and strength to play on the outside.  He is most effective on slants, screens, and underneath routes, which is how he managed 112 catches in 2007.  Like Moss, Welker’s position with the team is guaranteed (of course barring injury).

Jabar Gaffney

When people look back on the 2007 season, they are most likely going to think of Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth as the starting receivers.  However, people seem to forget that Jabar Gaffney started more than half the season (over Stallworth, including playoffs).  Jabar has a combination of great hands, good speed, excellent ball awareness, adequate size, and good route running ability.  That translates into a good NFL receiver.  In 2008, Gaffney will either be the #2 or the #4 wideout.  What’s best is that he’s a tremendous fallback if Chad Jackson struggles.

Kelley Washington

In 2007, Kelley Washington found his niche on special teams.  In 2008, I would expect much of the same… but this time around, we might see him play a little more offense.  Although Washington struggled playing receiver during the preseason in 2007, he still managed a roster spot, excelling on special teams.  Now, Washington, how has tremendous size and decent ball skills, has an extra year under his belt in the Patriots system, and it will be interesting to see if he can make an ever bigger impact on the Patriots in ’08.

Sam Aiken

The Patriots signed Sam Aiken in March so that he could be a special teams guy, which was his motto in Buffalo.  However, if he makes the team, don’t expect him to play on offense, because from what he showed in minicamp, he has stone hands and no concept of the offense (although I will watch him in training camp before giving my final verdict).

Matt Slater

When the Patriots drafted Matthew Slater in the 5th round of this years’ draft, they envisioned him as a jack of all trades type.  He will play receiver and safety but will most likely make his biggest impact on special teams, where he excelled during his stay at UCLA.  He will battle Sam Aiken for the last spot on the roster, but I’ll give Slater the early edge.

C.J. Jones

C.J. Jones was a guy that I liked a lot last year.  He’s a great returner, and showed some receiving skills.  However, I don’t think there is room for him on this years’ roster.  He will battle for a practice squad spot.

Robert Ortiz

Unfortunately, I don’t know a lot about the San Diego State product.  He’s got good size, and decent hands, and can find the seam well.  He can also pick up yardage after the catch.  But he lacks speed to beat defenders downfield, and has problems securing the ball.  He is a potential practice squad guy.  SI had this to say about him prior to the 2006 draft.

Ray Ventrone

Ventrone began the transition from safety to wide receiver this offseason.  Lets hope he stops that transition.  Quickly.  Because he looked god awful as receiver during minicamp.

The Skinny

Wide receiver looks to be a competitive position heading into training camp.  While Randy Moss and Wes Welker look solidified in their roles, the rest of the position is up for grabs.  Jabar Gaffney and Chad Jackson will battle it out for the #2 spot, Kelley Washington will look to earn more playing time on offense,  while Matt Slater, Sam Aiken, Robert Ortiz, and Ray Ventrone will look to make the last spot or the practice squad.

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