Who Will Be New England Patriots Third Receiver in 2012?

By Sean Rollins

Deion Branch and the New England Patriots have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal. With the signing of Branch and previously the signing of Donte’ Stallworth, it must be decided who will be the Patriots’ third option in 2012.

With last year’s top receiver Wes Welker having been given the franchise tag and with the acquisition of Brandon Lloyd, the top two receiving positions are now filled. The additions of Branch and Stallworth to the roster will raise the question of who will be the third option for Tom Brady. Both of these receivers have been top receivers for teams in the past but both are now declining in their careers.

Deion Branch played for the Patriots for the first four years of his career before moving across the country to Seattle via free agency. As Branch’s performance level declined over his time with the Seahawks, he was traded back to New England during the 2010 season. As the Patriots number two wide receiver in 2011 behind Welker, Branch recorded 51 receptions for 702 yards and five touchdowns.

Donte’ Stallworth became a top receiver for the New Orleans Saints with his most productive season coming in 2005. After a short stay in Philadelphia, Stallworth spent the 2007 season in New England recording 46 receptions for 697 yards and three touchdowns. Following a departure from the league in 2009 and a short eight game season in 2010, the 31-year old spent the 2011 season with the Washington Redskins.

Stallworth was the Patriots third receiver in 2007 during their undefeated Super Bowl run where they fell one game short of becoming the second team in NFL history to finish an unblemished season. One of the reasons for the Patriots signing so many accomplished receivers this offseason has been a lack of production by the rest of the team’s receivers. In 2011, the Patriots had Chad Ochocinco, Julien Edelman, Tiquan Underwood, and Matthew Slater who combined for exactly half of Stallworth production in 2007.

Because of the lack of production by all but two New England wide receivers in 2011, the Patriots displayed a passing game that prominently featured tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. The signings of Brandon Lloyd and Donte’ Stallworth combined with the returns of Wes Welker and Deion Branch will certainly give Brady more options on the outside allowing the Patriots to run a more conventional offense.

Welker and Lloyd will definitely be the top two receivers for the Patriots in 2012 and either Branch or Stallworth could be considered the number three. Neither would be considered greatly superior to the other so likely the player considered the third receiver will simply be the more productive of the two. Either way, the Patriots receiving corps will be greatly improved in 2012 with both Branch and Stallworth on the roster.

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