You're already looking forward to the receiver competition at Patriots training camp. Considering New England's stacked pack of wideouts and Bill Belichick's aversion to taking more than six into the regular season, the position battle promises to be interesting.
Hence why ProFootballFocus.com's "Drop Rate" blog post is so perfectly timed.
The statistic is exactly what it sounds like: "...how many drops a receiver had as a percentage of balls deemed catchable."
The PFF guys used receivers who've seen at least 125 catchable balls over the last three years.
And the results? Wes Welker's name came up several times.
The first point is opportunity. Unsurprisingly, Tom Brady's favorite target ranks No. 1 for catchable balls with 363. Roddy White was second with 360.
Of course more targets means more opportunity for dropped passes and Welker is No. 2 with 32 drops. Consequently, his hands don't put him in the top 15 of the 61 receivers studied.
NOTE: Two other Patriots did. Jabar Gaffney's 5.08 drop rate (10 drops of 197 catchable balls in one season with Washington, two with Denver) puts him at No. 7. Deion Branch sits at 15 with a 6.06 drop rate (10 drops, 165 catchable passes).
Welker is not in the bottom 15 either.
As far as drop rate goes it's safe to say he doesn't deserve a delivery of 8,000 Butterfinger bars. Welker's drop rate is 8.82. Great? No. But bear in mind only three players in that upper tier -- Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne, Anquan Boldin -- saw 200 or more catchable balls.
The Patriots probably won't use this information in Welker's continued contract negotiations. PFF's "Signature Stats" do come highly recommended, however.
The Patriots opened a roster spot by waiving defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, but they won't be adding a quarterback to take his place.
According to Field Yates of ESPN, the team has swapped one defensive tackle for another by adding former Browns big man John Hughes, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder who played under former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi when Lombardi was Cleveland's general manager in 2013.
Hughes was released last week after spending just over four years with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2012. He signed a four-year extension with the Browns last season that was worth $12.8 million.
With the Patriots, Hughes figures to work in as part of the rotation on the interior of the defensive line along with Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and rookie third-round pick Vincent Valentine. Unlike Johnson, who was more of a penetrating pass-rusher, Hughes should factor in as more of a space-eating type. He has 5.5 career sacks in 53 games.
Johnson is the latest in a long line of Browns who played under Lombardi to end up in New England. The two most notable Patriots who spent 2013 in Cleveland are defensive end Jabaal Sheard and running back Dion Lewis. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who arrived in New England in a trade this summer, was drafted by Lombardi's front office as the No. 6 overall pick in 2013.
There’s no way to spin rookie Jacoby Brissett starting a game rather than three-year NFL veteran Jimmy Garoppolo or future Hall of Famer Tom Brady as preferable.
But can the disadvantages be mitigated? Can the fact there is no “book” on a player be helpful?
“I think there’s always an element of the unknown when you’re dealing with a player or something you haven’t seen or scouted as much,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on a conference call Monday afternoon. “I don’t know if there’s an advantage there, it’s just that you don’t have as much information on a player or on some scheme that they may use, which then forces you to figure some things out as the game goes along and do some quick self-scouting as you move through the first cquarter, the first half, whatever it is, just to make sure that if it is something new you haven’t seen before, if it is a player that you haven’t played against and don’t have a lot of volume of tape on, that you have an opportunity to evaluate quickly what is going on.
"What’s happening in the game? How much of an impact is that player having? Are they trying to do something that’s disrupting what you’re trying to do with their scheme? I think that happens a lot of weeks during the course of the year based on health and availability, new players, guys being called up, someone that just got signed and you don’t really have a lot of experience watching them play in their system. I would say that’s a common occurrence for us.”
With a fullback or UDFA guard pressed into duty, there’s not a helluva lot that will be altered in terms of scheme. With players like Garoppolo and Brissett, though, the Patriots' long-established offense can take on an entirely different look if different areas are emphasized.
For instance, jet sweep is a play the team won’t use much with Tom Brady except as a “keep ‘em honest” on the edges kind of play. With Garoppolo, quickness when he gets outside the pocket has to be respected so if he fakes that jet sweep and rolls to the outside, he’s a run-pass threat with speed and downfield accuracy. With Brissett, he’s a threat with elusiveness, size and power as a runner. Additionally, if the Patriots wanted to try the old Elway Throwback to the opposite sideline, Brissett may have more arm power than either Brady or Garoppolo.
McDaniels said the Patriots aren’t looking necessarily for ways to “surprise” opponents as much as they are looking for ways to accentuate players’ strengths.
“We’ve got to take the guys that we get to play with, based on health and other factors, and then we consider the defense that we’re getting ready to play against, and the great players and the scheme that they use, and then we try to formulate the right plan to allow our players to go out there and play fast, play well, and do the things that suit their talents the best,” McDaniels explained. “I don’t think that our mindset has changed.
"Some of the variables have changed from one week to the next, which is always the case, and of course, when you get a group of guys a plan and then you work so hard to get ready for Sunday or Thursday night and go out there and watch them play and execute and take care of the ball and do the things you need to do to try to win, and then they enjoy it so much, that’s really the thing that you take the most satisfaction from as a coach.”