Spotlight: Brandon Tate

posted by on Aug 3rd


's thoughts

I have written and rewritten this Player Spotlight about four times with the uncertainty surrounding Wes Welker. Given that Welker seems to be starting training camp, this contains my opinion as how things are looking as of the start of August.

Randy Moss is clearly the top receiver heading into the season, but beyond that there are a lot of questions on the wide receiver depth chart in New England. Given that the Patriots in recent seasons have been explosive passing the football, there could be several fantasy options, especially in larger and deeper fantasy leagues.

Under normal circumstances, the Patriots' second receiving option (and recently maybe even the first) would be Wes Welker. But Welker tore his ACL in the final regular season game last year and had surgery in February. Most humans would take nine months to seriously begin thinking about getting back on the field. Welker, however, was seen actively participating in practice in June (roughly four months post-surgery) and apparently the plan will be to have him active for the start of the regular season.

Speculation has run amok in terms of whether he will miss any regular season game time and if his skills will be diminished upon his returns. Even the media and beat writers that cover New England are split in terms of what will happen with Welker heading forward. One thing we do know is that with Welker being activated for training camp, he can't be placed on the regular season PUP list and thus won't miss at least the first six weeks of the season while on that list.

Here are the options after Moss in the Patriots stable of wide receivers.

Wes Welker
Provided he doesn't suffer a setback, Welker should be active for the start of the regular season, but it would be perfectly reasonable that the Patriots would take a cautious approach to integrating Welker into the lineup and priming him for a bigger workload by the end of the season. It would also be reasonable to expect a drop off in his production. His game has been built around craftiness, quickness, and the ability to make quick cuts--both to get open and gain yards after the catch. He ran routes in mini camp and was thought to be running at about 75% speed, and rounded off routes, but that was totally non-contact. Things will change once the pads go on.

While every case is different, the "normal" recovery time from ACL injuries has been in the nine month range for a player to get back on the field and the first year of production usually is lower. There has not been a conclusive finding on how much a drop off to expect post-surgery, but from what I have researched the range typically suggested a first year dip of 25-40%. Welker has put up three straight 110 reception seasons, and on a per-game average, he was on pace to eclipse the all time single season receptions mark had he played in every game.

Since joining the Patriots three seasons ago, Welker has averaged more receptions per game than any other player in the NFL. Last year, he actually increased his receptions and targets and seemed to play just as well. Over the past three years, here are the collective leaders in receptions per game.

First Last RECs/Gm
Wes Welker 7.52
Andre Johnson 6.73
Brandon Marshall 6.67
Anquan Boldin 6.28
Larry Fitzgerald 6.23
T.J. Houshmandzadeh 6.02
Reggie Wayne 5.96
Tony Gonzalez 5.79
Jason Witten 5.65
Hines Ward 5.49
Steve Smith(CAR) 5.23
Randy Moss 5.21

He's fared almost as well on the fantasy points per game chart in the same timeframe:

First Last FPTs/Gm
Randy Moss 13.72
Andre Johnson 13.43
Larry Fitzgerald 12.83
Anquan Boldin 11.56
Reggie Wayne 11.4
Brandon Marshall 11.27
Terrell Owens 11.04
Roddy White 10.79
Steve Smith(CAR) 10.76
Greg Jennings 10.74
Marques Colston 10.56
Wes Welker 10.18

I expect Welker will be brought along slowly and may only be on the field in set packages or situationally in the early going. I also think his role will increase as the season progresses, so I would project him for 25-30 receptions in the first half of the year and 45-50 receptions down the stretch. A lot will depend on how the team is doing and whether the offense can be productive with Welker talking it easy. The more they need Welker, the sooner he will get more playing time (and potentially would have more of an injury risk).

Julian Edelman
As things stand now, Edelman would likely get the nod in the slot if Welker is out of the line up. While Edelman's stats overall as a rookie look only so-so, he missed time with a broken arm and was used sparingly, but he did very well with Welker out. He had four games with at least five receptions between the regular and post-season, including games of 98 and 103 yards and a two TD effort against the Ravens in the playoffs.

He was converted from quarterback in college to a slot receiver as a rookie, and he seemed to have a firm grasp of the offense and his role and expectations. On a few occasions in 2009, he lined up on the outside, but predominantly he will be used as an underneath threat and in the slot. His fantasy value would take a decent hit if Welker is playing and productive to start the season.

Torry Holt
In mini-camp, Holt lined up as a starter on the outside opposite Moss. If the season started today, Holt probably would be a starter with Welker back in his usual slot position. Brady loves his veterans, guys who run routes and end up where they need to be, and receivers with good hands. All those are positives for Holt, but he has lost a step or two and will not be confused with the player that was a fulcrum of the Greatest Show on Turf in winning the Super Bowl with the Rams.

New England is still recovering from last year's debacle known as Joey Galloway, so it's clear that being an older, wily veteran doesn't always mean that much. Galloway struggled from the time he put on a Patriots uniform, and at this point Holt should not have anywhere near the same issues Galloway had in learning the Patriots offense.

Holt could end up being a backup to all three receiving spots. He could be used to give Moss a few plays off, could spend time on the outside with Tate, and could be used to ease back Welker into the slot.

There's a big difference productivity wise to being the WR1 or WR2 in Jacksonville vs. a part-timer in New England.

Brandon Tate
New England would prefer that Brandon Tate step in as the team's third receiving option after Moss and Welker and play on the outside opposite Moss. They hope that his injuries are a thing of the past and that he can make big strides and become a consistent contributor. While that sounds nice, he will have to produce on the field and earn more playing time in what suddenly is a crowded crop of receivers in Foxboro.

He might have the highest upside (both in redraft and dynasty) of any of the receivers after Moss and Welker. Given that his game day experience has been extremely limited, it's hard to know for sure if he is the next big thing or the next receiver to fizzle. The recent track record for New England in drafting receivers hasn't been great. The last WR the Patriots drafted that had a 1,000 yard receiving season was Terry Glenn in the 1996 draft.

Trevor Price
Rookie Taylor Price will likely stick with the team as a sixth receiver. That's tantamount to getting table scraps for fantasy purposes. A third round pick out of Ohio, he should see more time as a special teamer than as an offensive threat as a receiver.

Positives

  • Now another year away from his knee surgery, Tom Brady should be healthy to start the year and with his accuracy, all the players mentioned here should benefit.
  • New England appears to have restocked and reloaded their receiving options on a team already near the top in most passing categories.
  • Expect more multi-receiver sets and a jailbreak offense much of the time from the Patriots (even if a more balanced attack might serve them better).

Negatives

  • Welker's health casts a shroud of uncertainty over the Patriots offense. They struggled at times to move the ball last year without him in the lineup.
  • There are some unproven/inexperienced options as depth behind Welker, and Holt is nowhere near the same player and could end up not making the final roster.
  • Sometimes new faces at WR and TE cause offenses to struggle until everyone gets on the same page (and sometimes things just don't work out).

Final thoughts

Welker may be back, but to expect him to be 100% is likely expecting too much. Everything in the passing game flows downstream and downhill from Welker, so his health will play a huge role in the production of all the Patriots offensive players. As mentioned early, it would be prudent for the Patriots to limit his playing time and exposure to keep him in the lineup all season (and into the post season).

The play calling last season left a lot to be desired, as the offense got plain and predictable. If the Pats add in some wrinkles and get more creative, they could again be a very high octane offense instead of just a good one.

Update (10/21/2010): Torry Holt was placed on injured reserve and then subsequently tendered his release.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Editor's Note: This Spotlight thread was opened well before Wes Welker was cleared to practice, ergo the comments generally reflect a higher level of skepticism about Welker's role than we would likely see if this thread was restarted anew on August 1st. But our writer, David Yudkin, penned his analysis with the understanding that Welker is in the mix.

AngryPatriot said:

Edelman looked very good, especially after the catch although whether he can take a pounding game after game could be a concern. I think Welker will miss a few games to be safe. Tate is the big question mark and could be a big factor if he works out. Moss would definitely benefit having him on the other side to stretch things out. I don't know if Holt will add a thing if he's not cut. Word is he stunk on JAX last year and may just have too many miles. On the other hand, there's hardly a better situation for a good route runner with good hands. In fantasy terms I like Edelman in PPR but wouldn't rely on any of the others at this point (except Moss). Tate is worth a flyer in deep leagues.

munchkin said:

At this point Mike Reiss is still projecting Welker to be on the PUP list to start the season. If he loses a minimum of six weeks Holt is a safe bet to start the season in the mix on the outside. Holt had a respectable 103 targets and 51 receptions for 722 yards and zero touchdowns. Both he and Sims-Walker missed a game and MSW had only 8 more targets than Holt. With this in mind Holt could prove to be a viable receiver in the mold of Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell. Edelman should have improved awareness in his second season and his chemistry with Brady should make him that reliable replacement for Welker. Whether he can take the punishment Welker did on a weekly basis remains to be seen. Some of the pressure should be off all the receivers if the TE's prove to be more reliable. Tate is a work in progress and I personally hope the team doesn't regret bringing him back too early last season which resulted in a second knee injury. Right now Tate appears to be a favorite for the KO return duties and will figure in to the mix with Holt opposite Moss. Tate has not been showing the solid route running and good hands the young TE's Hernandez and Gronkowski have according to the writers over at PFW but it is early yet. Obviously the Patriots want Tate to show enough to make Holt an afterthought as the season progresses but that remains to be seen.

captain_amazing said:

Everything really centers around when Welker will come back. He allows Moss and other deep receivers to get open, and helps get 1st downs. He creates opportunities, not only for himself, but for other deep receivers (Tate, Moss, Holt-depending on how much of a "step" he has really lost. So I presented my projections with West Welker (WW) on and off the PUP list starting the beginning of the season.

I think Welker will have one of his lighter reception and YAC seasons as a Pat, because I think the Pats might be extra cautious with him. Edelman had a great end of the season in 2009, and I think with another year of learning the position (transitioning as a QB) in their system he will have an even better season. Depending on how well Welker is and how well Edleman transitions as a slot WR, these projections might be low.

Holt will probably play WR3 opposite of Moss, and sub as a Slot in TE packages with his experience. If he is smarter than Galloway was (which I believe he is), he will make the cut and have a decent season for his age.

Tate is really the unknown prospect. Much hasn't been said in minicamp. He has been primarily mentioned as a KR and PR, and not for his WR skills, so time will tell. However, if he can stay healthy, I think he subs as WR3 and plays on more 3+WR sets for deeper routes because of his great speed.

Overall, I think this WR group has the talent and athleticism, but its a mixed bag with mostly unproven talent (Tate and Edelman (minus last year)) and older talent (Holt and Moss) and injured talent (Welker). So, it will certainly be interesting, if nothing more!


Brandon Tate projections

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