Dobson offers biggest impact potential

Dobson offers biggest impact potential
April 27, 2013, 1:15 am
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FOXBORO – You’ll really like the Rutgers guys. Smart. Funny. Great personalities. I don’t know if they can play football at all and probably won’t find out this year but both Duron Hamilton and Logan Ryan seem terrific.

Jamie Collins? He’s a linebacker in a defense stacked with linebackers. So even though he can jump out da gym and was insanely productive for an 0-12 Southern Mississippi team, the 52nd overall pick is going to be waving a towel when the season starts while Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Dane Fletcher, Jake Bequette, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes play.

When things eventually go #POWWWWW with Spikes, the Patriots have a 6-4, 250-pound guy with versatility that they can shuffle in with Mayo and Hightower at the linebacker level.

I’m not saying never with these guys, I’m just saying not now.

Aaron Dobson? Different story. The wide receiver from Marshall is the pertinent story from the 2013 draft because he represents the lone hope for impact from the crop of players imported this weekend.

For the first time since they took Chad Jackson in the second round back in 2006, the Patriots drafted a wide receiver who isn’t a project. Not a player from a run-based college offense like third-rounder Taylor Price in 2010. Not a guy with an injury history who missed his final college season and was as much a kick returner as a wide receiver like Brandon Tate in 2009. Not a converted college quarterback like Julian Edelman in 2009. Not a guy ticketed for special teams first like Matt Slater in 2008.  

Jackson, of course, wound up being a project anyway because he never learned – or seemed inclined to learn – the Patriots system.

But with Dobson, the Patriots have at least tried to find a guy who can play on the outside at the “X” position with length (6-2), speed (4.4 at his pro day) and the aptitude and attitude necessary to attack the learning curve he’s going to face.

Asked what Dobson impressed with during interviews, Bill Belichick stressed Dobson’s ability to comprehend the entirety of the offense.

“You talk to him about what he did, he can explain the techniques, his assignments, what other guys are doing at Marshall,” said Belichick. “We’d look at things that we did, then come back and talk about them. He remembered how we did them, how we call them, things like that.

“He’s a pretty intelligent guy,” Belichick added. “He has good recall of what [Marshall] did. He had a good understanding and grasp of learning, taking new information, processing that and being able to understand it and apply it. Tell him something and then see a play a few plays later and say, ‘What would you do on this play if they did this, they did that’? There’s different ways to measure all that, but he’s a pretty impressive kid. He’s a mature kid. He’s pretty smart.”

Belichick’s always said that a receiver’s primary responsibilities are getting open and catching the ball. Chad Ochocinco could do that. So could Bethel Johnson. But which zip code they’d be in when they got open wasn’t something that was always clear pre-snap. Being in the right spot, being able to divine what Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels want, that’s seemingly as big a part of things as the getting open and catching stuff.

Which is why Deion Branch never cleans out his locker. The getting open part for Branch is vanishing but he gets to the right spot and catches the ball.

With Dobson, catching the ball doesn’t seem a worry. He’s a snatcher of the football.

The pressure on Dobson will be significant. Without the buffer of first-round selections to allow him to fly under radar, the 59th selection is now in a very visible position with the league’s most scrutinized team. Brady has never hesitated to go to the whip early with his receivers. Aside from Dobson, Brady is currently in a position where he’s starting fresh with Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones at the wideout spots in addition to Edelman. Brady expects a lot. Dobson said Friday night that he relishes the chance to work with Brady and that’s good. Because it’s not going to be easy. A good attitude, a thick skin and a ton of mental toughness will be necessary.

The Patriots took it all into account, it seems, with the most important player they’ll draft this year.

“He’s big, he’s fast, he’s got good hands, he’s a strong player; smart, very smart,” said Belichick. “He has some position flexibility and versatility. Catches the ball very well. We’ll see how it goes.”

It hasn’t gone well with homegrown wideouts in the past. Dobson has the potential to change that in the very near future.