An article written on NESN.com today by Doug Kyed raises some great points centered around the fact that Gronk's latest injury may negatively impact the Patriot's at the wide receiver position more than at tight end. And I believe he is right.
While Gronk is the Patriot's best offensive player besides #12, they do have depth at the position, including Aaron Hernandez, who is a potential superstar in his own right. They also have unproven but potentially impactful big man Jake Ballard on the roster, along with two other somewhat serviceable back-ups in Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells. While Gronk is obviously missed; last season the Patriots proved the offense can still succeed without him on the field.
Gronk re-injured his arm on this play. Now his return for the beginning of next season is in question
But as of right now, that offensive unit has lost some important pieces. Last year without Gronk, Brady was able to turn to his most reliable pass-catcher, Wes Welker, who's role increased significantly without Gronkowski on the field. He also had Brandon Lloyd on the outside, who was streaky but still had a productive season. He is gone now too.
And while Lloyd disappeared at times, he was a threat, and someone opponents were forced to account for at all times because he did have big play capabilities. I think it is safe to say that as of right now, the Patriots do not have a receiver on the roster that other teams would be particularly worried about. Furthermore, with Gronk out, Hernandez, who functions as more of a receiver than a tight end at many times, will be forced to take more snaps from a set position on the line. Without the outside threat that was filled last year by Lloyd and Hernandez, not only does Brady not have a reliable guy to look for outside the numbers, but teams will be more relaxed in that area and able to hone in on the middle of the field where New England thrives.
The previously linked article from NESN also raises this startling statistic that underlines how truly dire the Patriots current receiver situation is: If you combine the total number of catches made last season by the current seven receivers on the Patriots roster, the grand total comes to....zero. None of them had a single catch last season. And that is a serious cause for concern that has been further amplified now that the timeline of Gronkowski's return is in question.
Now, all that being said, I would be completely and utterly shocked if the Patriot's went into the season with the current crew at receiver. I think it is essentially a sure thing that they will add talent between now and the first regular season game. And it is becoming increasingly evident that they are looking to do so in the draft, rather than free agency.
There has been little news regarding Pittsburgh restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, who visited the team's facility a few weeks back. The fact that the team has not given him an offer suggests they are looking to the draft. I have written a few times this off-season about my desire for the team to go after Charger's RFA Danario Alexander, but the team has not been even remotely linked to him to this point, so I am not getting my hopes up.
In the past couple of weeks, it has been reported the Patriots have been in touch with a number of high-caliber wide receivers entering the draft. These names include DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson), Kenny Stills (Oklahoma), Marquess Wilson (Washington State), and Markus Wheaton (Oregon State). Look for my player profiles this upcoming week on each of these prospects.
In conclusion, don't be surprised if the team uses one of their early picks on a receiver. The troubling news about Gronk's arm raises significant concerns about the depleted receiving group and the offense as a whole. With Brady at the helm, the offense will produce, but diminishing the weapons around him is something the Patriots must change before season starts.
And hey, for all you dreamers out there, Victor Cruz just turned down a big extension with the Giants...