NFL

Assessing the New England Patriots’ Offensive Playmakers

With Aaron Hernandez being both cut by the Patriots and incarcerated on Wednesday, New England now has a gaping hole in their offense. Even before Hernandez got himself into a whole world of trouble, the Patriots had plenty of questions at the offensive skill positions, and losing Hernandez doesn’t help them.

Now that Hernandez is no longer a part of the organization, New England’s biggest problem offensively is the injury to Rob Gronkowski, which will keep him on the sidelines to start the preseason, and probably for the start of the regular season as well. After having a dynamic duo at the tight end position over the past few seasons, there’s a chance that the Patriots will be without both Hernandez and Gronkowski, at least to start the season, which would drastically alter the look of New England’s offense, and the way they go about attacking defenses.

In addition to the loss of Hernandez and the questions around Gronkowski, the Patriots also have losses at the wide receiver position, releasing Brandon Lloyd, who had 74 catches last year, and losing Wes Welker, who was the team’s leading receiver last season, and Danny Woodhead in free agency. With Hernandez, Lloyd, Woodhead and Welker no longer with the team, and the status of Gronkowski up in the air, there’s a possibility that New England will be without its top five receivers from a year ago.

Those five players accounted for over 300 receptions last season, and will leave an enormous void in New England’s passing game. This will put unreal amounts of pressure on Danny Amendola, who was the biggest acquisition the patriots made this offseason. Amendola has never eclipsed 700 yards receiving in a single season, and if there were other reliable targets on New England’s roster, getting close to that mark would be sufficient, but without a lot of help around him, Amendola will have to have a career year, even if he’s also adjusting to a new team.

Outside of Amendola, the Patriots also signed former Vikings wide receiver Michael Jenkins, who is penciled in as the starter heading into his 10th NFL season. Jenkins does give New England size on the outside, but it’s hard to imagine him being anything more than a complementary receiver. The Patriots also signed Donald Jones and retained Julian Edelman, who are both capable of being productive in spurts, but may not be able to give New England consistent play throughout the course of the season.

The Patriots showed good foresight in taking two wide receivers in this year’s draft, but now they’re going to need them to not only contribute right away, but also carve out significant roles in the receiving corps. Second round pick Aaron Dobson is smart, and may be able to pick up New England’s complex offense right away, and if he does that, he has the size and speed to make an impact. Meanwhile, fourth round pick Josh Boyce may be the fastest wide out the Patriots have, and he has the potential to give New England the vertical threat they lack, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready to contribute as a rookie.

Of course, some of the trepidation can be curbed as long as Tom Brady is the quarterback throwing the ball. However, with Hernandez incarcerated and the injury status of Gronkowski up in the air, not only will Brady lack the dynamic tight ends he’s grown accustomed to, but he’ll also have a thin and largely unproven collection of wide receivers to work with. So when the 2013 season gets under way, there’s a distinct chance the Patriots won’t have any reliable players on their offense outside of Brady and Amendola, and while Brady has handled a lack of effective skill players in the past, it’s never been quite to this extent, and it’s created a predicament that could spell trouble for the Patriots.

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