The Patriots re-signed Deion Branch to a one-year contract to what is now an overcrowded WR corps that consists of Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd as the starters. That leaves Branch to fight for playing time with Chad Ochocinco, Anthony Gonzalez, Donté Stallworth, Tiquan Underwood and Matthew Slater — all of whom are likely fighting for a roster spot.
Slater is a Pro Bowl special-teams player and Stallworth is a vertical threat, leaving Gonzalez, if healthy, as quality depth. Gonzalez has to learn the offense, which will take time, so I believe you’re looking at a top-three WR corps consisting of Welker, Lloyd and Branch. That might sound acceptable to fantasy owners, as the Patriots are a high-octane offense, but it would make him the fifth option as a pass receiver. The team also has standout TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Branch is one of QB Tom Brady's trusted options in the clutch. In 2011, he ended the season with 51-702-5 receiving but his value was as a matchup play with five games of 69 yards or more. His highlights were in Week Two — when he caught 8-129-0 on 10 targets — and Week 12 — when he had 6-125-0 receiving on 10 targets. He also had 10 games where he was a nonfactor and he turns 33 years old in July. He has lost a step and can no longer separate from defenders like he used to, thus his nonstarter role.
His only value will come in large leagues as a matchup play or if injuries befall anyone above him on the depth chart. Entering the 2012 season, Branch is more valuable to the Patriots than he is to fantasy owners. At best, he’s a late-round draft pick with value on your roster as depth you can use as a matchup play, bye-week or injury fill-in. He’s not the player he once was and if he has lost another step since last season; there’s a chance he could be fighting for a roster spot himself.
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