"I think our competition at receiver is good, it's probably as good as it's been since I've been here."
Bill Belichick said it first.
The Patriots have had a revolving door at a few wide receiver positions over the past few years. Chad Johnson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon Lloyd, to name a few.
Wes Welker passed the torch to Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola finally proved himself worthy of a starting spot. Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett can more than man the tight end position. But who else will catch balls for the Patriots?
The current contestants for the remaining receiver spots are: Chris Hogan, Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Harper, and Devin Lucien. Now, it'll take much more than a red rose for these guys to make the 53-man roster. Lucien and Harper are practice squad candidates, but the others have a shot at suiting up this year.
Chris Hogan is the far-and-away favorite to man the slot receiver spot for the Patriots. He was signed away from the Bills to a three year/$12 million deal this offseason. He's a strong receiver with a skill set similar to Julian Edelman. Hogan will become a fan favorite in New England due to his grittiness and thirst for yards after the catch. Remind you of anybody?
The battles for the fourth and fifth receiver positions is where you'll find the biggest logjam. There are six guys battling for two, maybe three spots.
The most impressive candidate for me thus far has been Malcolm Mitchell. The fourth-round pick out of Georgia has come in with the "Patriot Way" mindset. He's been saying and doing all the right things.
“My focus was to work as hard as I could and let everything else take care of itself,” Mitchell said. “Have as much fun as you can. That’s what I came out here and tried to do today, just enjoy it.”
Recently, the rookie was a popular target in training camp. On Sunday, Mitchell caught five balls in drills, including the first three with Tom Brady. He also had a touchdown connection with #12 in the two-minute drill. If Mitchell stays consistent with and without the ball in his hands, look for the rookie to not only make the team but contribute in his first year.
Keshawn Johnson and Aaron Dobson are two other receivers that are receiving more than just footballs.
Compliments have been flying around for Dobson. The fourth-year receiver is facing a make-or-break season after showing glimpses of promise in the previous three. Dobson has all the skill in the world, but has been consistently inconsistent and marred by injuries and drops. He's been getting quality reps with Edelman and Amendola on the physically unable to perform list, but he needs to carry that over into the season.
I wouldn't mind seeing another one of these.
Belichick summed up Dobson's career rather well.
“You know, Aaron’s had a good spring and a good few days here at training camp,” Belichick said Monday night. “I think we’ve seen that from him before. I’d say Aaron’s just, for whatever reason, hasn’t been able to consistently be on the field and do it, you know, when he’s been out there he’s looked good a lot, but he hasn’t always been out there for one reason or another."
Dobson will look to be consistent, and he's doing well, along with other competitor DeAndre Carter. Doug Moore of Patriots Insider had this observation at camp on Sunday:
Keshawn Martin gave the Patriots plenty of reasons to keep him when he performed well as injuries mounted last year. Martin adds a different dynamic to the Patriots due to his ability to return punts and kickoffs. He isn't what the Patriots need physically, but he's a quick receiver that has shown the ability to make defenders miss. He'll have a chance to make the roster with a strong preseason.
Nate Washington is the other man vying for the privilege to suit up this year. He was signed by the Patriots to a one-year, one million dollar contract this offseason. He's the eldest of the receivers trying for the last spot, but he's also the most experienced. With Dobson and Carter putting up strong preseasons, Washington is becoming more likely to be cut than contribute. However, I wouldn't rule out a strong preseason from the savvy veteran in his attempt to make the team.