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New England Patriots News – Patriots by position: Wide receiver

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Deion Branch. (AP)

As the Patriots offseason gets underway, we’ll continue to present a snapshot of the team by position. We’ve already examined the defensive backs, the linebackers, the defensive line, special teams, quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends. Now, here’s the wide receivers:

On the roster: Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater, Brandon Tate, Wes Welker. (Buddy Farnham ended the season on the practice squad.)

Stat standouts — Total receptions: Welker, 86; Branch (48 with Patriots, 61 overall). Total receiving yards: Welker, 848; Branch (706 with Patriots, 818 overall). Yards per catch (minimum 20 receptions): Tate, 18.0. Touchdowns: Welker, 7; Branch (5 with Patriots, 6 overall). Best single game: Two favorites for us: The first was Branch against the Lions on Thanksgiving, when he flat-out torched Detroit cornerback Alphonso Smith for three catches (two of them touchdowns) and 113 yards. The second was Welker’s eight-catch, 115-yard performance on Dec. 12 in the snow against the Bears in Chicago.

2010, in three sentences: Remade. The October trade of Randy Moss to Minnesota changed the look of the New England receiving corps — instead of the traditional deep threat, it was more reliant on midrange and intermediate routes. It was a success, as the Patriots’ passing game became one of the most difficult to defend over the second half of the season, thanks in large part to the duo of Branch and Welker.

By the numbers — tie (courtesy of Nuggetpalooza): 13: Welker had more drops (13) than any receiver in the league in 2010. It’s the first time a Patriots’ receiver has led the NFL in dropped passes in the 16 seasons that they’ve tracked the stat. Welker dropped 13.1 percent of catchable balls this year (13 of 99) after dropping just 4.5 percent (20 of 442) over the first five seasons of his career. It was the fourth time in the last 16 seasons that a Patriots’ receiver has suffered 10+ drops. The others? Glad you asked: Vincent Brisby (12) in 1995; Terry Glenn (11) in 1996; Glenn (10) in 2000.

Money quote: “I don’t want it to be in a negative light. I just want everybody to understand, you can print it. I don’t care how you put it on your ink, I want to be here as a Patriot. I love being here. But I just think from a business standpoint, this probably will be my last year here as a Patriot. And I’m not retiring. I’m still going to play some football. I just want to get that off my chest and let you all understand that this is a business. Now I’ll open it up for questions.” —Randy Moss on Sept. 12. Less than a month later, he was traded to Minnesota.

The skinny: Like the running back spot, the Patriots remade the wide receiver position on the fly during the season. While Welker worked his way back to full strength after a devastating knee injury at the end of the 2009 campaign, New England jettisoned Moss and reacquired Branch. Welker didn’t appear to miss a beat in his return — he caught the first touchdown pass of the season for the Patriots — and the Branch/Tom Brady reunion produced immediate dividends. However, Branch and Welker are signed for one more year, and the prospect of giving Welker an extension will likely be one of the bigger storylines of this offseason, provided a labor deal gets done sooner rather than later. In addition, the specter of a lack of a big play receiver — something that clearly hamstrung New England in its playoff loss to the Jets — is also a question for this team going forward. Meanwhile, the offseason will be a key one for young receivers like Tate and Edelman, both of whom had issues in 2010, but will almost certainly be asked to do more in 2011. And look for Price (who was active for just one game in 2010) to have more of a role next season.

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