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Wide-eyed wideouts

Posted by David Sabino  September 4, 2013 12:54 PM

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Thompkins.jpgAt age 25, starting wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins isn't your average undrafted rookie
At 1 PM on Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y. New England’s great rookie wide receiver experiment goes live as the Patriots take on the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The group of green wideouts in red, white, and blue make up a full half of the team’s complement at the position and have been the source of both consternation and optimism by the Pats’ faithful—especially in light of the events of the Aaron Hernandez saga—leaving Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce squarely in the crosshairs of Tom Brady’s rifle arm. But to their credit, the neophyte trio outperformed a band of veteran NFL journeyman types during the offseason and exhibition games to earn their place on the 53-man roster. Now it’s time for them to prove that they belong.

Over the years the Patriots haven’t had many outstanding rookie performers at wide receiver. In fact, since 1960, the inaugural season of the AFL, first-year wideouts have accounted for just 15.5 catches per season, with a high of 90 for Terry Glenn in 1996. In fact, only seven total rookie wide receivers have managed as many as 40 catches in a season for the Patriots, and just one of them, Deion Branch (43 in 2002) occurred during the Belichick-Brady Regime.

40+ Catches by a Patriots rookie wide receiver (since ‘60)

  1. Terry Glenn ‘96 (90 rec., 1,132 yards, 6 TDs)

  2. Randy Vataha ‘71 (51 rec., 872 yards, 9 TDs)

  3. Jim Colclough ‘60 (49 rec., 666 yards, 9 TDs)

  4. Hart Lee Dykes ‘89 (49 rec., 795 yards, 5 TDs)

  5. Vincent Brisby (45 rec., 626 yards, 2 TDs)

  6. Deion Branch ‘02 (43 rec., 489 yards, 2 TDs)

  7. Will Moore ‘95 (43 rec., 502 yards, 1 TD)

To say that rookie wideouts have been not much more than an afterthought during the Belichick-Brady era would be an understatement of colossal proportions. Relegated mostly to special teams duty with a occasional snaps on offense here and there when they even make the roster, the last time two rookie wide receivers even caught passes for the Pats during the same season was—get this—2002, when Branch and David Givens both entered the league. That’s correct, the Patriots haven’t had rookie two wideouts catch as many as one ball in the same season since Deion Branch’s rookie campaign, which is over a decade ago. In total since Belichick took the reins, first-year wideouts have accounted for 133 catches, 1,480 yards and nine touchdowns which barely outdistances Anquan Boldin’s solo rookie output in 2003 (101-1,377-8)

Only Catches by Patriots rookie wide receivers since 2000

  1. Deion Branch ‘02 (43 rec., 489 yards, 2 TDs)

  2. Julian Edelman ‘09 (37 rec., 359 yards, 1 TD)

  3. Bethel Johnson ‘03 (16 rec., 209 yards, 2 TDs)

  4. Chad Jackson ‘06 (13 rec., 152 yards, 3 TDs)

  5. David Givens ‘02 (9 rec., 92 yards, 1 TD)

  6. Curtis Jackson ‘00 (5 rec., 44 yards, 0 TDs)

  7. Brandon Childress ‘05 (3 rec., 32 yards, 0 TDs)

  8. Taylor Price ‘10 (3 rec., 41 yards, 0 TDs)

  9. Fred Coleman ‘01 (2 rec., 50 yards, 0 TDs)

  10. Shockmain Davis ‘00 (2 rec., 12 yards, 0 TDs)

And big games from a rookie wide receiver are even scarcer than a good season. Art Graham holds the mark for rookie receiving yards in a game with 156 against the Jets in 1963. Julian Edelman one of two holdovers in the receiving corps (with special teams ace, Matthew Slater), and Deion Branch are the only rookie receivers to gain at least 100 yards in a game since ‘00 And here’s a bar bet alert: the last rookie WR to catch a touchdown pass for New England? Bethel Johnson on November 23, 2003 at the Texans. With this group, that fact will have a short shelf life.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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