The New England Patriots' desperate need for a deep receiver was never more pronounced than in Super Bowl XLVI, when the New York Giants got away with lining up their two-safety sets closer to the line of scrimmage than they ever would have in Randy Moss' (or even Deion Branch's) best days. Former 49ers, Redskins, Bears, Broncos and Rams receiver Brandon Lloyd became Bill Belichick's latest veteran receiver reclamation project when he signed a three-year, $12 million deal with New England on Saturday.
New England struck out with Chad Ochocinco last season, but the Lloyd factor could be far more impactful, and his history with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the key. McDaniels was Denver's head coach in 2010, when Lloyd led the NFL in "air yards" with 16.47 per catch. That season, he ranked second in Football Outsiders' cumulative efficiency rankings, and sixth in FO's per-play metrics, among all receivers. In 2011, Branch led the Patriots with 7.27 air yards per catch, while Lloyd picked up 11.97 in St. Louis' woeful passing offense with McDaniels as offensive coordinator.
Lloyd's catch rates aren't always great (51 percent in 2010, and 48 percent in 2011), but that's fairly common among deep receivers. If he can force enemy defenses to commit up top, that will provide more opportunities for receiver Wes Welker, as well as super tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Don't expect the Pats to deviate from their league-leading percentage of 2-TE sets (it's their bread and butter now), but the addition of Lloyd should at least make safeties play them honest in 2012.
Based on his career splits, Lloyd appears poised for big things in New England. His totals from 2003 through 2009: 164 catches for 2,370 yards and 15 touchdowns. His totals in 2010-2011: 147 catches in 31 games for 2,414 yards and 16 touchdowns. He might not be able to do what Moss did in 2007, but all signs point to this move as a stroke of near-genius for a team in desperate need of precisely what Brandon Lloyd can provide.
"I'm ready for work," Lloyd said on Sunday. "The time for talking is done. I couldn't be more excited."
As Moss did in 2007, Lloyd comes to Foxboro with a reputation for headache-inducing attitude shifts, but he's turned his career around to a large degree. Selected in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL draft by the 49ers, Lloyd underachieved in the Bay Area for three seasons and was then traded to Washington. There, he ran afoul of team officials, landed squarely in Joe Gibbs' doghouse, and continued to produce at a level far below his alleged talent. He was released in February 2008 and signed by the Chicago Bears in March. After a 26-catch season in the Windy City, Lloyd followed quarterback Kyle Orton to Denver and had his breakout year in 2010 after another disappearing act during the 2009 season.