If you happen to take a look at Gillette Stadium nowadays at the New England Patriots OTAs, you might see a familiar face: Jabar Gaffney.
Gaffney might be a newly acquired wide receiver, but he had already spent three seasons with the Patriots, dating back from 2006 until 2008. In those seasons withTom Brady and the Pats, Gaffney recorded 85 receptions for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns.
In Gaffney’s first stint with the Patriots, he was mostly used as a third option, but now with this new-look and revamped wide receiver corps, his role could certainly be changing a bit.
As of right now, the Patriots have quite the talent at the wide receiver position, with guys like Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Donte’ Stallworth, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Chad Ochocinco and, of course, Gaffney.
It’s set in stone that Welker will be Brady’s most targeted receiver, as he’ll be playing in the slot. The team’s tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will be the secondary options, and assuming Lloyd fits into the offense, he’ll be the second option in the wide receiver corps—from that point on, it’s all a wash.
As of right now, I would assume their starting lineup would be Welker in the slot with Lloyd being the No. 1 wide receiver, and then either Branch or Gaffney being the No. 2.
Branch is certainly on the downhill of his career, as the soon-to-be 33-year-old has failed to play in a full season since 2005. However, Branch managed to play in 15 games in 2011 with the Patriots, as he recorded 51 receptions for 702 yards and five touchdowns—but I wouldn’t expect to see him repeat those numbers in 2012.
In fact, I see Gaffney stepping up and stealing some playing time away from Branch. He’s certainly a less injury-prone player, who spent 2011 as the Washington Redskins’ No. 1 wide receiver when he caught 68 passes for 947 yards and five touchdowns—also keep in mind that quarterbacks Rex Grossman and John Beck were throwing him the ball.
With Gaffney’s familiarity in New England’s offense, I am sure that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have no problem throwing him right onto the playing field and taking up large quantities of snap counts.
One thing that will always stick in my memory is Gaffney’s first season with the Patriots back in 2006. Gaffney was signed mid-season in early October prior to the team’s bye week, but was able to pick up the offense immediately. Gaffney caught at least one pass in each of the team’s final regular-season games and then emerged as the top receiver throughout their playoff run.
In three playoff games, Gaffney snagged 21 receptions—with 10 coming in New England’s divisional battle against the San Diego Chargers—and recorded two total touchdowns.
That was certainly six years ago, but it just shows that Gaffney is a shoo-in for New England’s offensive attack.
What kind of role should we expect from Gaffney in 2012? In all honesty, I think we’ll see more of him than we will see of Branch.
Lloyd will be the No. 1 with Gaffney being the No. 2, and Welker will be in the slot.
That’s how I picture it.