Insiders Analysis: Wide Receivers

PI takes a look at the roster and breaks down each player on a unit-by-unit basis. In this installment, the wide receiver position is the subject. The starting receivers from 2004 return with another year and another Super Bowl under their belt. The addition of some new faces in camp, most notably David Terrell, have observers thinking the Pats will have a better pass attack in 2005. PI reviews the starters and the current backups in this analysis.

Insiders Analysis: Wide Receivers

Deion Branch – 5'9", 193 Lbs., 4th Year, Louisville
There is no clear-cut number one receiver on this team, but Branch has established himself as one of Tom Brady's favorites. Many detractors point to lack of size when referring to Branch, however he more than makes up for that with precise route running, great hands, and quickness. The reigning Superbowl MVP has averaged 13.0 yards per catch last season, and 27 of his 35 receptions were good for first downs. Despite missing 7 games, he still managed to catch 4 TD's. Branch has yet to stay healthy for all 16 games in a season. If he does manage to play in all 16 this year, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities for him to gain 1,000 yards.

David Givens – 6'0", 215 Lbs., 4th Year, Notre Dame
Givens' production has shot up dramatically in his three seasons with New England. It has risen from 9 receptions in his rookie year, to 34 in 2003, and 56 last season. One of the larger targets in this young corps of wideouts, Givens has been a clutch performer in that 75 of his 99 career receptions have been for first downs. He has deceptive speed and is also strong enough to outmuscle physical defenders. His size and leaping ability make him an attractive target inside the 20. He may see bigger numbers come his way this season, for it is likely that opposing defenses will put a lot of effort into stopping Branch, who missed nearly half a season a year ago.

Troy Brown – 5'10", 196 Lbs., 13th Year, Marshall
Although his numbers have slipped dramatically in the last couple of seasons, Brown is an extremely important part of this team. He sacrificed himself to play cornerback last season when both Ty Law and Tyrone Poole were out with injuries. Strangely enough, Brown had the same number of tackles as he did receptions (17), and had more interceptions (3) than receiving TD's (1). The elder statesman of this unit has stressed that he would prefer to play at wide receiver all season, but if duty calls, there is little doubt he would step up to the defensive challenge again. Brown's days as a return specialist may be numbered with the signings of Chad Morton and Tim Dwight, however return men are prone to injury, and Brown may be back in that fold if someone goes down.

David Terrell – 6'2", 212 Lbs., 5th Year, Michigan
The once highly touted Terrell was sent out to pasture by the Bears in February after 4 underachieving seasons in Chicago. Soon after the 2001 draft, early detractors of coach Bill Belichick had suggested Terrell fit much more of a need for the Pats than some defensive lineman from Georgia named Richard Seymour who was taken two picks ahead of Terrell at 6th overall. So, fittingly Terrell now ends up with the two-time defending champs, who have brought him in for his size and rapport with former college teammate Tom Brady. Terrell could be a valuable asset in the red zone for a team that lacks height at the position. Despite catching only 42 passes and 1 TD in 16 games last year, he averaged an off-the-chart 16.6 yards per catch. Most critics of Terrell point to his sloppy route-running and drifting on vertical routes as hindrances to his success. If Brady and the coaching staff can get him to buy into their program, where he won't have to be the primary target and not have the pressure of being labeled a bust, he could be a great pickup.

Bethel Johnson – 5'11", 200 Lbs., 3rd Year, Texas A&M
Johnson, who is an electrifying return specialist when healthy, is currently on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform list (PUP List) with an undisclosed leg injury. If he is activated before Week 1, he will be eligible to play from the outset of the season. He is not ready by then, he will have to wait until Week 7. Johnson could be classified as an enigma. He possesses breakaway speed, but rounds off his cuts on short routes. He's also missed games for disciplinary reasons. Despite these issues, he can stretch a defense vertically for big plays; despite having only 10 receptions last season, two were for more than 40 yards. He has returned 2 kickoffs of 90+ yards in both of his seasons. He is a powerful weapon if he is available.

Tim Dwight – 5'8", 180 Lbs., 8th Year, Iowa
Another special teams weapon on the PUP List, Dwight has 3 career punt returns and 2 kickoff returns for TD's. He holds the Superbowl record for highest kick return average with 42.0 yards per return (5 returns, 210 yards). Due to his selfless style and small frame, he is thought of as more of a specialist than a receiver. Wear and tear has limited Dwight to only 21 games in the last two seasons. If he can get healthy, he adds depth to a speedy corps of wideouts.

P.K. Sam – 6'3", 210 Lbs., 2nd Year, Florida State
The Patriots' 5th round pick in 2004 played in only two games before being placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. He did not record a reception. He possesses great size and hands as well as good strength for a wide receiver and is only 22 years old. He could win a roster spot with a good preseason given the absenses of Dwight and Bethel Johnson.

Cedric James – 6'1", 195 Lbs., 5th Year, Texas Christian
James was a member of the Patriots practice squad last season, and was allocated to Rhein Fire of NFL Europe for seasoning this spring. He ranked in the top 10 in NFL Europe in 3 categories; his 29 receptions ranked 8th, he was 4th in receiving yards with 515, and his 5 TD's were good for 5th in the league. He may see a return to the practice squad, given the glut of wide receivers in camp.

Eugene Baker – 6'2", 183 Lbs, 6th Year, Kent State
The Patriots picked up Baker on July 31 after the Carolina Panthers released him. He was the Panthers' main kick return man last season while Rod Smart was out with a knee injury. He was not very effective, averaging 6.1 yards an punt returns and 19.5 on kick returns. He's a long shot to make the roster.

Bam Childress - 5'10", 185 lbs, Rookie, Ohio State
Childress was an undrafted rookie free agent when the Patriots signed him July 24th. He played receiver and returned kicks for the Buckeyes. Some of the elusive moves Shildress has demonstrated in camp have opened eyes, yet its not the first time he impressed others. Childress had a monster game in a 2003 spring game after scoring three TDs and racking up 242 all-purpose yards, including a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. If any longshot has a chance to make the roster, it seem's that Childress would be the one.

Jason Anderson - 6'3", 195lbs, Rookie, Wake Forest
Signed by the team July 31st just in time for camp. Originally signed by the Titans but was released July 27th after three short months. Was the leading receiver for Wake Forest in 2003, finishing his career there with 115 receptions for 2,066 yards (18.0 ypc avg) and 15 TDs. Anderson has the size to go up for the ball in a fade route in the back of the end-zone as he has done a number of times in camp. He will have to beat out other big receivers in camp to have a shot.

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