The "what do the Patriots need to improve" chatter was no different after their Super Bowl loss to the Giants than it was after their early playoff exit a year earlier. When it comes to offense, New England could still use a big-play threat at wide receiver.
The Pats' offense ranked second in the league in passing and was as high-octane as they come, but in New England's losses, defenses were able to bottle up Tom Brady's top targets. The offense obviously hummed behind Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, but another dynamic pass catcher would open up even more in the middle of the field and give Brady a legitimate threat down the sideline. Aside from Welker and Deion Branch, wide receivers combined for 386 yards in 2011.
The way we hear it, the Patriots will target wide receivers this offseason, with one source suggesting they may draft two wideouts in April.
The draft hasn't been very good to the Patriots at the position — and that's an understatement. Of the five wide receivers drafted since 2006, only two are with the team, and both are better-known on special teams than on offense: Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater. The team was high on Taylor Price, a 2010 third-rounder, but he never panned out and was waived this past season. Brandon Tate, whom some expected to be the deep threat after Randy Moss left, was cut before the 2011 season after showing more prowess as a return man than as a receiver.
The other draft misses by Bill Belichick are well-documented. 2006 second-rounder Chad Jackson played in 14 games with the Patriots and is out of the league. 2004 fifth-round WR P.K. Sam played in two NFL games. Second-round WR Bethel Johnson, drafted in '03, was primarily a return man in his three seasons with the Patriots.
With two picks at the end of the first round, the Pats should have an opportunity to select one of the top receivers in a deep receiving class. An outside receiver could help stretch the field, something Chad Ochocinco had been expected to provide.
In free agency, the name discussed most is Brandon Lloyd, who was not shy about his desire to reunite with Josh McDaniels. The Patriots haven't dealt directly with Lloyd's agent, Tom Condon, in seven years, but Condon told the Boston Herald this week that if the Patriots call, he will listen.
Other potential veteran targets include Dwayne Bowe, should the Chiefs fail to re-sign him, and Reggie Wayne. Branch and Welker are both free agents but are expected to be back next season.
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