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New England Patriots: Reviewing Tom Brady's Impressive History With Little-Known Receivers

Working With Non-Star Receivers Is Nothing New for the New England QB

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Much ado has been made of the supposed demise of quarterback Tom Brady's targets this season, as his receiving options have been hit hard by injuries and departures.

However, he should be fine, as he has a history of putting up big numbers no matter who is catching his passes. Throughout his career, he has worked with many little-known receivers who became extremely productive working with the future Hall of Famer.

Brady has averaged 4,654 passing yards and 36 touchdowns per season over the past three years, but three of his primary targets during that span are either not returning or have major question marks in 2013.

The departure of wide receiver Wes Welker, release of tight end Aaron Hernandez and injury concerns of tight end Rob Gronkowski prompted the team to completely overhaul its receivers. Talented but injury-prone receiver Danny Amendola (undrafted in 2008) heads a group split between young relatively unheralded players, and veterans with histories of modest production.

Although there aren't any slam-dunk receiving stars on the roster (other than Gronkowski, if healthy), Brady should be just fine. While he's had first-class receivers like Randy Moss in the past, his history of teasing out great production from unknowns has been a theme throughout his career.

Here are the best of that group:

Troy Brown: He is the Patriots' original lunch-pail receiver. He started a total of just seven games in his first seven seasons, getting much of his work on special teams.

The 1993 eighth-round pick was entering his ninth professional season when Brady took over as starter in 2001. While he had 83 receptions the year before, he truly took off with his new quarterback. He immediately became a security blanket, hauling in 101 passes for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns, helping the team to its first-ever Super Bowl victory.

Brown remained a popular target of Brady until he retired following the 2007 season. In 15 seasons, he amassed 557 receptions for 6,366 yards and 31 touchdowns, making him one of the most productive and popular players in team history.

David Patten: An undrafted player, Patten kicked around with the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns as an extra receiver before joining the Patriots in 2001 as one of their starters. He was just 5 feet 10 inches and 190 pounds but had excellent speed and ran crisp routes.

In four seasons in New England, Patten caught 165 passes for 2,513 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is perhaps best known for a 2001 game against the Indianapolis Colts when he became the first player since Walter Payton in 1979 to catch, rush and pass for a touchdown in the same game.

David Givens: The Notre Dame product was chosen in the seventh round of the 2002 draft after a modest college career that saw him record just three touchdowns. A long shot to make the Patriots, he stuck as a rookie and became a starter by the end of his second season.

He seemed to step up in big games, as evidenced by notching touchdown receptions in seven of his eight career playoff games (including two Super Bowls). After 158 catches for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns in New England, he moved to the Tennessee Titans in 2006 as a free agent. He played just five games with his new team before suffering a torn ACL and having to retire.

Wes Welker: Welker is the most obvious example of a little-known receiver becoming highly productive with Brady. He was undrafted out of Texas Tech and spent time with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins as a kick returner and extra receiver.

The Patriots traded for Welker prior to the 2007 season, and he spent the next six years becoming arguably the team's greatest receiver of all time. During his time with New England, he caught 672 passes for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns, five times exceeding 100 catches in a season. He has the most catches in franchise history, while his receiving yards rank second and receiving touchdowns rank eighth, respectively.

Conclusion: Brady has proved he can produce regardless of whom he is throwing to. He certainly faces a lot of change this season, but there is little reason to doubt other little-known receivers will step up and take the baton from those who have come before them. The question is, who will become the next to join this growing and impressive list?

In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew.

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