The New England Patriots are thieves. They’ve made a living poaching players off lesser teams and turning them into dynamic role players at the very least. They’ve also allowed talented malcontents to flourish after they were highlighted by Bill Belichick’s game plans and/or Tom Brady’s prolific play.
Granted, there are examples of players who didn’t work out in New England. Thirty-eight year-old Joey Galloway caught just seven balls for 67 yards over three games in 2009. Reggie Wayne requested his release from the team before the 2015 season began. Joseph Addai literally quit during a conditioning test. Anthony Gonzalez didn’t make it to training camp. The takeaway from these cases is none of those players ever played for the Pats. In other words, if the new guys do make the team, there’s a good chance they’ll contribute in some capacity.
This offseason New England made the ballyhooed additions of Brandin Cooks, Andrew Hawkins and Mike Gillislee. Cooks and Hawkins are exactly the types of players who have historically flourished in Belichick’s system. Mike Gillislee will attempt to fill the void created by LeGarrette Blount’s departure. Let’s take a look at some of the notable players who’ve made the move to Foxboro.
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Name three sports things more beautiful than a Tom Brady deep ball to Randy Moss. You can’t – it is impossible. It’s almost more impressive the Raiders only managed to squeeze 553 yards and three scores out of Moss in 2006 before he was traded to the Pats for a fourth-round pick. Bill, you salty dog. As you know, the rest is history – Moss and Tom Brady formed the most perfect union since Bunk and McNulty (for the record, Moss is definitely McNulty in this analogy). Moss snagged 23 of Brady’s record-setting 50 touchdown passes and scorched NFL earth with 1,493 receiving yards.
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Talk about a turnaround. Before joining the Brady backfield, Antowain Smith was saddled with the undesirable task of playing with quarterbacks Rob Johnson and 38-year-old Doug Flutie. In Smith’s last season with Buffalo, he ran for 354 yards and four touchdowns. In his first season with the Pats, he exploded for 1,157 rushing yards and 12 touches. He even saw 25 more targets and hauled in 19 receptions for 192 yards.
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David Patten joined the Patriots in 2001 after spending the previous season with the Browns (of course he did). Patten’s impact immediately increased as his receptions spiked from 38 to 51 and his receiving yards jumped from 546 to 749. Patten was one of the first in a long line of slot receivers to enjoy a statistical boost by joining the Pats.
Corey Dillon was a really good running back when he played in Cincinnati, but it’s safe to say his last great season was in New England. In Cincinnati, Dillon produced six straight 1,100-yard seasons to start his career. After a down year in 2003 (541 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns), the Bengals traded Dillon to the Patriots for a second-round pick. Much like Antowain Smith before him, Dillon went wild in his new home. He more than tripled his rushing yards up to 1,635 and rumbled for a whopping 12 rushing touchdowns. In Cincinnati’s defense, they were making room for Rudi Johnson who had 1,538 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns in 2004.
If Randy Moss was the prototypical deep threat, Wes Welker must’ve been assembled in a slot receiver factory. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Welker quickly became one of Brady’s favorite targets when he arrived in New England. In 2007, he grabbed 112 receptions for 1,175 yards and eight scores. Not surprisingly, he nearly doubled his 67 receptions and 687 yards from his previous season with the Dolphins.
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There may be no bigger surge in production than Danny Woodhead. In 2009 -- his only full season with the Jets – Woodhead was barely employed in their offense. He rushed 15 times for 64 yards and caught eight passes for 97 yards. Ol’ Billy Sweatshirt must’ve seen something in his multi-faceted production because Woodhead immediately had one of the best seasons of his career when he signed in 2010. The pint-sized back went off for 547 rush yards, 379 receiving yards and six total touchdowns.
Danny Amendola joined the Pats after an injury-riddled couple seasons with St. Louis (RIP). Amendola is the only player on this list whose numbers didn’t surge after joining his new team. Unlike many of these players, St. Louis actually used Amendola. It wasn’t as much of a change in opportunity as it was in availability. The Texas Tech product remained steady and posted similar numbers with about 20 fewer targets. His receiving yards dipped from 666 to 633 during his first season in New England, but he finished with one fewer touchdown (2) than his final year with the Rams (3 TD).
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Dion Lewis continued Danny Woodhead’s lineage as a speedy third down back for New England. The perennial powerhouse plucked him from the NFL scrap heap in late-2014. When he was finally able to play in 2015, Lewis compiled 622 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. This was a big turnaround for a player who managed 192 yards and two touchdowns over two seasons in Philly.
Is there any bigger gap in perception between two players than the one between Tom Brady and Jay Cutler? Maybe that’s why Martellus Bennett joined as second fiddle to Gronk in 2016. Bennett was always serviceable in Chicago, but he exited on a down year - 53 receptions, 439 yards and three touchdowns. His numbers were cut in half from 2015 when he had 90 catches for 916 and six scores. Bennett bounced back to an extent in 2016 with 55 catches, 701 yards and seven touchdowns.
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LeGarrette Blount was an afterthought when he was traded by Tampa Bay to the Pats for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick in 2013. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Blount’s first year in Foxboro was far superior to his last year in Tampa Bay. Blount posted just 151 yards on the ground with two scores on the way out of Tampa. In 2013, Tom Brady handed off to him with regularity and allowed him to rush for 772 yards and seven touchdowns. Blount’s career in New England concluded with his crown jewel 2016: more than 1,100 yards and 18(!) touchdowns.
Cooks & Co.
There are a lot of mouths to feed on the 2017 Patriots offense, but the table is set for Brandin Cooks to maintain most of his statistical success. He amassed over 1,100 yards last season with eight touchdowns. Based on the history of receivers added to the Pats in the middle of their careers, I see no reason why he can’t haul in 75 to 80 receptions and 1,000 yards. Brady had a plethora of targets in 2007 and that didn’t hinder Randy Moss.
After Andrew Hawkins was victimized by the Browns quarterback situation over the past couple years, he may see the biggest uptick. That’s not saying much as he only caught 33 balls last season for 324 yards. He’ll also battle for targets with Edelman and Amendola in the slot.
Since he joined the NFL, Mike Gillislee’s rush totals have increased annually and should fit right into the LeGarrette Blount role. Blount rushed 299 times over 16 games last season, and led the league in red zone attempts with 68. James White and Dion Lewis will continue to be speedy third down options.