The Patriots enter the 2013 season with a receiving corps that is largely different from the weapons Tom Brady had last year. Gone from the roster are players who accounted for 91 percent of the catches from Brady by receivers in 2012.
In their place are free-agent addition Danny Amendola, who missed 20 games the past two seasons to injuries; Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, all rookies; and holdovers Matthew Slater (1 catch in 2012) and Julian Edelman (21 catches in 2012).
Traditionally, grasping the Patriots offense is something that has been difficult for receivers. Take a look at some of the high and low points of the receiving corps in recent years:
Veterans who made it work with Tom Brady
Signed as free agent (April 2001)
Four seasons with Patriots (165 catches)
A member of three Super Bowl-winning squads, Patten spent the prime of his career with the Patriots and had three of his four most productive seasons. He established career highs of 61 catches for 824 yards in 2002, and averaged 15.2 yards per catch with New England.
Signed as free agent (March 2006)
One season with Patriots (61 catches)
In 16 games receiving passes from Brady, Caldwell more than doubled his previous season’s output with San Diego. He led the Patriots in catches and receiving yards (760) and tied for the team lead with four scoring grabs. He was a late cut just before the 2007 season.
Signed as free agent (October 2006)
Three seasons with Patriots (85 catches)
Gaffney didn’t make much of an impact in his first season, 142 receiving yards in 2006, until the playoffs, when he put up back-to-back 100-yard games. Gaffney’s following two seasons played out very similar: 36 for 449, and 38 for 468 (mostly from Matt Cassel).
Signed as free agent (March 2007)
One-plus season with Patriots (47 catches)
Stallworth was an underappreciated part of the Patriots’ record-setting offensive machine, ranking fourth on the team in receptions and third in receiving yards with 697. He was a big-play threat as well, matching Randy Moss’s average of 15.2 yards per catch.
Traded by Miami (March 2007)
Six seasons with Patriots (672 catches)
Welker was a rising player when he arrived, and kept right on rising until he was a first-team All-Pro. He led the NFL in receptions for three of his six years here, and left in March as the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions. He averaged 7.2 catches per game as a Patriot.
Traded by Raiders (April 2007)
Three-plus seasons with Patriots (259 catches)
Moss was the piece that turned a good offense into an unstoppable one. With Brady having such a downfield threat at his disposal he set the season TD record in 2007 with 50, 23 of which went to Moss, also an NFL record. Moss wore out his welcome after three great years.
Signed as free agent (March 2012)
One season with Patriots (74 catches)
Perhaps Patriots fans expected Lloyd to be the second coming of Moss, based on Lloyd’s career-making years in 2010 and ‘11. The former Ram fell three catches shy of his career high last year, and played his best in two big games (9 catches vs. Ravens, 10 vs. 49ers).
Veterans who failed to meet expectations with Patriots
Rookies aren’t the only receivers who have had trouble picking up the Patriots offense quickly enough to become one of Brady’s trusted targets. Here are 12 veteran pickups who failed to meet expectations.
Before N.E.: 9 seasons, 342 catches -- Steady wideout on four teams in the ‘90s
With N.E.: 3 games in 2001, 4 catches -- Cut twice after 40-catch season with Eagles
Before N.E.: 7 seasons, 330 catches -- Averaged 900 yards per season with Falcons
With N.E.: 2 games in 2001, 4 catches -- Drops cost him starting job, then cut before Week 5
Before N.E.: 7 seasons, 337 catches -- Ranks ninth in Steelers history with 247 receptions
With N.E.: 14 games in 2001, 14 catches -- Lasted all season but was barely targeted
Before N.E.: 8 seasons, 327 catches -- 10th overall pick in ‘95 topped out at 63 catches in ‘98
With N.E.: 2 games in 2003, 2 catches -- Midseason pickup (from Jaguars) didn’t last long
Before N.E.: 5 seasons, 132 catches -- Had 118 catches, 1,523 yards last two years in Carolina
With N.E.: 12 games in 2002, 12 catches -- At 6-4 and entering his prime, Hayes was a failure
Before N.E.: 3 seasons, 93 catches -- A field-stretcher and dangerous kick returner with Browns
With N.E.: 9 games in 2005, 9 catches -- Acquired in preseason but never had a defined role
Before N.E.: 7 seasons, 153 catches -- Averaged 18.9 yards per grab in three years with Atlanta
With N.E.: 16 games in 2005, 19 catches -- Mainly a special teamer in his last healthy season
Before N.E.: 4 seasons, 128 catches -- Eighth pick in 2001 fell short of Bears’ expectations
With N.E.: 0 games in 2005, 0 catches -- Being Brady’s guy at Michigan didn’t matter here
Before N.E.: 3 seasons, 71 catches -- Rose from fifth-round pick to solid wideout/return man
With N.E.: 12 games in 2006, 25 catches -- A useful part early in year but cut in December
Before N.E.: 4 seasons, 72 catches -- Flashy player couldn’t stay healthy in Cincinnati
With N.E.: 24 games in 2007-08, 1 catch -- More injuries scuttled what was a five-year deal
Before N.E.: 14 seasons, 682 catches -- Established star for three teams before arriving
With N.E.: 3 games in 2009, 7 catches -- Washed up at 37 and released prior to Week 7
Before New England: 11 seasons, 920 catches. Put up Hall of Fame numbers with the Rams
With New England: 0 games in 2010, 0 catches. Knee injury knocked him out before the preseason
Before N.E.: 10 seasons, 751 catches -- Two-time All-Pro in Cincinnati who made six Pro Bowls
With N.E.: 15 games in 2011, 15 catches -- Bad with routes, Brady lost faith in him quickly
How rookie receivers fared in the Tom Brady era
The Patriots haven’t had much luck with rookie wide receivers in the Brady era -- mostly because they weren’t utilized much in the offense.
Other rookie WRs who didn’t record a catch: P.K. Sam (2004, 2 games); Matthew Slater (2008, 14 games); Brandon Tate (2009, 2 games).