The third of the series, taking a look at how the wide receivers performed for the Patriots in 2008.
All things considered, Randy Moss had a very good season in 2008. While his numbers weren’t 2007, he did pull in 11 touchdowns off of 1,008 yards and 69 receptions. In a year that may have made the old Randy Moss frustrated, Moss stayed cool the whole year. He made some beautiful plays. A couple of his classic touchdowns, the bomb against San Fran, the buzzer catch against the Jets. The fact is, after Tom Brady went down, the team turned to Moss to be the leader, and he responded very well. Outlook: Moss is under contract for the next 2 years, and should be back to his usual self in 2009, no matter who is at quarterback. His leadership this past season has really cemented his status as an NFL legend. Grade: A-
Wes Welker was simply amazing in 2008, I could use this space to try and explain why Welker was so good, but I don’t think words can suffice. Welker finished the season with 111 catches and three touchdowns. He had an amazing YAC average, but also developed a rhythm in the mid-range passing game. Welker has amazing agility and smarts, which makes up for the fact that he isn’t the fastest receiver out there. Outlook: Wes Welker was the centerpiece of the Patriots offense in 2008, and will look to make the same type of impact in 2009, as he return as the Patriots slot receiver. Welker will keep doing his thing as long as he can, although he does take a lot of abuse. Grade: A+
The Patriots re-signed Jabar Gaffney to a one year deal in 2008, as he was asked to start on the outside next to Randy Moss. He finished with 38 catches and three touchdowns. While Gaffney was a little inconsistent early in the season (Colts drop may have cost us the season), he really turned it on later in the season with big games against Arizona, Miami, the Jets, and Seattle. Gaffney normally has solid hands, and a well balanced combination of speed and route running. Outlook: Gaffney is a free agent. He does his job well, and as long as he isn’t asking too much, the Patriots should resign him. Unless, of course, they want to go out and sign someone like Devery Henderson, who would be a nice deep threat. Grade: B-
Many people expected Washington to step into the role of fourth receiver in 2008. While injuries may have very well prevented him from doing this (6 missed games), Washington still played a pivotal role on special teams. Outlook: Washington has really made his niche on special teams, and I would expect him to continue his role in that area. While it would be nice if he could step up as the fourth receiver, I’m not sure if he will at this point. Grade: C+
When the Patriots signed Sam Aiken prior to the 2008 season, I expected the entirety of his contributions to come on special teams coverage. But boy did he prove me wrong. Aiken somehow emerged as the Patriots fourth receiver in ’08, and made a few nice plays, including his 43 yard catch and run against the Jets. Outlook: Aiken will likely face some competition at the fourth receiver spot in 2009, but will have his chances. Either way, he should continue to make an impact on special teams. Grade: B
Matthew Slater, a fifth round draft pick and son of hall of famer Jackie Slater, only had two passes thrown his way in 2008, and didn’t catch either of him. Still, his primary role was on special teams, where he excelled in coverage. He had a costly muff on a return against the Steelers though. Outlook: Matt Slater will have to prove his value in training camp this year. While we know he has value as a special teamer, so do Sam Aiken and Kelley Washington. I’m interested to see if he can improve his skills as a receiver/safety. Grade: C-
While Ventrone look impressive as a slot receiver in training camp, he didn’t get to play the position in the regular season. However, he did have some very nice plays on special teams. Outlook: Ventrone is a fan-favorite, and can play all three facets of the game (offense, defense, special teams). Still, he will have his work cut out for him to make the team in 2009. Grade: INC
Receiver was a very strong position for the Patriots in 2008. With every receiver minus Gaffney under contract for 2009, this group looks to stay intact.
Position Grade: A-