A closer look at the roster as training camp arrives. In this part of the series we look at the…
Training Camp Preview: Wide Receivers
Starters -- Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch.
Backups -- Jabar Gaffney, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Donte' Stallworth, Britt Davis, Jeremy Ebert, Jesse Holley, Matt Roark.
Welker was one of the stories of the offseason in New England in his search for a long-term contract extension with the team, but he'll have to play the 2012 season on the franchise tag ($9.5 million). Despite his now infamous Super Bowl drop, Welker will remain one of Brady's favorite weapons and, as always, will be a threat to catch 100 passes a year after setting career bests for yards, average per reception and touchdowns.
Branch is also back after a quietly productive 2011 campaign in which he caught 51 passes for 702 yards and five touchdowns. He's always going to be trusted by Brady and though Branch has clearly lost quickness and can be shut down in some games, his knowledge of the offense and rapport with No. 12 makes him a valuable asset.
Lloyd is this season's big-name addition to the passing attack, and should be more successful than Chad Ochocinco thanks to Lloyd's history working with once again Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Lloyd should add a missing part of the Patriots passing attack as an outside option who can make plays down the field, thus giving more room underneath and in the middle for Welker and the tight ends to work.
Gaffney returns to the Patriots for a second tour as a versatile depth option. He's always been comfortable in the offense and working with Brady, having made some big plays for the team back in 2006-08. With Gaffney and Lloyd on board, New England's top four receivers are as good as the team has had since its record-breaking 2007 season.
One part of that season was Stallworth, who also returns for a second tour, but could be in a real fight for a roster spot. Not as fast as he once was, Stallworth hasn't been overly productive since leaving New England after 2007.
Both Edelman (who also cameos on defense and is New England's top punt returner) and Slater should make the roster based on their versatility and special teams ability, thus making them depth options at receiver.
Davis is a big receiver who's showed spark this offseason after bouncing around the league for a couple years, while Ebert is a rookie slot guy with impressive speed who could be a practice-squad candidate.
[Editor's Note: Roark was released after failing a physical.]
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