The Patriots’ stockpile of wide receivers lost one this week when the team cut Anthony Gonzalez, but there is still more work to do in the coming months. Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are locks, and Jabar Gaffney, who was productive with the team in 2007 and ’08 and is coming off a career-best season is essentially a lock. Deion Branch, who had more than 700 yards receiving last season and is a favorite of Tom Brady, should also reclaim his roster spot.
For the remaining spots at wideout on the 53-man roster, Chad Ochocinco, Donté Stallworth, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater will battle it out. It’s expected that seventh-round WR Jeremy Ebert will make his early mark on the practice squad.
Ochocinco and Stallworth, the two veterans, have the toughest chance to make the team. Ochocinco took a pay cut to get to camp, and he reportedly had to run a lap after a procedure penalty in an OTA practice open to the media — not a good start for Ochocinco, who did very little last season. Stallworth is familiar with the system, but had only 22 catches last season for Washington in 11 games.
It’s very possible that neither veteran makes the roster, losing out to the younger receivers with less experience but more versatility. Even though Edelman and Slater aren’t prototypical receivers, they are extremely valued by Bill Belichick for their versatility. We saw that last season when Edelman played some cornerback, and he has been an effective punt returner. Observers were surprised when Slater made the roster in his early years, but he has been a stalwart on special teams in the past two seasons and was re-signed this offseason.
Last year, New England had five receivers on the active roster for the Super Bowl: Welker, Branch, Ochocinco, Slater and Edelman. With TE Aaron Hernandez’s skill set being similar to that of a receiver, that also diminishes the chances for Ochocinco and Stallworth. The interesting thing to watch, we hear, will be if Edelman or Slater end up on the roster bubble this summer, should the Patriots need depth at another position. It's not expected, as both players have been steady contributors, but it's worth noting that wide receiver isn't the only position with a surplus. The Pats do have insurance on special teams in the form of CB Marquice Cole (added in free agency), S Nate Ebner (added in the draft) and LB Tracy White (re-signed).