By Joe Levit
The ban on assault weapons may now be at an end in the real world, but in the world of professional football, the New England Patriots have been building an impressive arsenal of role receivers on offense for a few years. What makes this unit so tough is its versatility and depth. Bill Belichick wasn't messing around when he was trying out Troy Brown on defense a bit. This willingness to win at any cost, in any scenario, is what separates this team from others.
They don't have a number one receiver. They don't have a go-to guy who will maul defensive backs and take them yard. What they have is a Tommy-Gun array of receivers, any one of which can penetrate a defense and draw blood. All of these guys can have a 100-yard outing, but you never know who is going to accomplish it when.
In building an offense that can score the big play at any time but was designed with sustained drives in mind, the roster has evolved to feature certain types of receivers. Largely missing from the team are tall wideouts. The Patriots did take 6'3" P.K. Sam in the draft this year, but because he will not get much playing time, he could soon go the way of players like J.J. Stokes and Tony Simmons, tall athletes who possess top straight-line speed and good leaping ability, but don't have the route-running skills and balance necessary to flourish in this offense.
Belichick is a modern-day Eli Whitney. He has recognized that to be able to shoot down other teams in today's NFL, you have to keep your own squad stocked with interchangeable players. With the help of Scott Pioli, he has been able to do just that. This team can lose one guy and have another to plug right in to the system.
It's hard not to notice the similarities between the players within the groups that comprise the Patriots receiving corps. Many people have talked about this team's mini-mite wideouts, but the phenomenon deserves a deeper look. Old man Troy Brown, middle veteran David Patten and newcomer Deion Branch are nearly identical in size:
Bethel Johnson, the speedster and return man, is only slightly larger (5'11" and 201), essentially a more robust model of the other three. The only larger receiver on the team who is at this time an important bullet is David Givens, who at an even 6 feet and 215 pounds is a veritable monster in comparison.
The parallels don't end with the wide receivers, though. The team has a subset of tight ends that it can use in a multitude of combinations. First-round draft picks Daniel Graham and Ben Watson are both 6'3", and Watson is listed at only two more pounds. This athletic duo will be a big part of the offense for years to come. They can make the tough catch, and gain yards after it.
The team can also role out Christian Fauria, a tight end who excels at blocking but can also make catches in the end zone. He stands six feet, four inches tall and 245 pounds.
The Patriots' patrol of interchangeable parts is what currently sets them apart from other teams in the league, and their offense is a perfect case study of that method. The truly amazing thing is that most of those parts are not worn by time, so their aim at additional Super Bowls is within reason.
Based in Boston, Joe Levit writes fantasy football columns for SI.com and thehuddle.com. He creates articles for fantasy magazines like Grogan's, Fantasy Index, The Handbook, and others. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America as well as the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. A devoted and unapologetic Detroit Lions fan, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.