This time last year the conversation was just beginning about which New England draft pick was going to be the most valuable fantasy asset for the coming season. With a great deal of back and forth through camp Aaron Dobson ultimately got the nod over Kenbrell Thompkins (and to a lesser extent, Josh Boyce was involved in the conversation as well) from most of the fantasy community. It seems that we got it right in year one, while most drafters overvalued Dobson relative to his overall production (WR60) he was clearly the more engaged receiver as the season moved along. A late season foot injury derailed his campaign and gave rise to opportunity for Boyce in particular, who posted his two most productive games of the season in Weeks 14 and 15. It seems that the same injury will give him opportunity early this offseason as well, but Boyce and Thompkins both are fighting for different opportunities this time around.
This year, a conversation is taking place at Wide Receiver as well. Despite the injury, Dobson’s role is widely assumed to be cemented heading into camp while the other parties involved are very much fighting for playing time.
Recall that Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman return and will be very much in the mix to lead the receiving corps while free agent acquisition Brandon LaFell should also have a role. With Dobson still on the shelf after foot surgery, Thompkins and Boyce will get an opportunity to earn reps this offseason. While the 22-year-old Dobson is out of his walking boot, he is expected to miss the team’s mandatory mini camp this week. Thompkins and Boyce then, will get more reps than expected when Dobson went under the knife more than three months ago.
Will that equate to a leap of Dobson on the depth chart? It seems highly unlikely, given that last year’s 2nd round pick put together a 37-519-4 season in 12 games last year and displayed game changing ability at times in 2013 – most notably during a two game stretch that saw him put together nine receptions, 190 yards and three scores. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t forget that Boyce ran a 4.38 40 at last year’s combine and can make plays in his own right, as he did this year during OTAs without Dobson on the field. Kenbrell Thompkins meanwhile was ahead of Dobson on the depth chart to start last season and had some big fantasy outputs as well.
The story line is interesting, but in reality it is going to take a spectacular (if not impossible) effort for either receiver to overtake Dobson on the depth chart – it is probably more conceivable that one of Thompkins or Boyce are not on the roster when camp breaks in August. All signs are that Dobson will be ready to go when training camp rolls around and most around the team (including Nick Underhill whose report on #17′s expected camp absence is linked above) expect Dobson to take on a major role in the New England offense this year. Assuming he recovers well and slots in as the primary outside threat, drawing starting duties and opportunity during two receiver sets while Julian Edelman works the slot and Danny Amendola operates across from him, Dobson has an opportunity to improve on last year’s numbers (which project to nearly 700 yards and 5+ scores over a 16 game campaign) in his second year in the league.
Aaron Dobson struggled with drops last season – nine of them on 46 catchable balls for one of the highest drop rates in the league, and will need to improve on that and his 52.1% catch rate to make good on the targets he is expected to receive this season but if he can improve on that in his second year in the league a 60-70 reception season could be in the offing – not a bad outlook for a receiver who caught a touchdown every 9.25 balls last year and posted 14.0 YPR as a rookie.
Thompkins may be better off, from a fantasy perspective, being let go. While he struggled enough with drops and other mental elements of his game last season to suggest that he would have trouble acclimating to a new offense, he seems likely to get a shot with another squad if let go. Boyce meanwhile, as he is in minicamp, will be reliant on an injury to afford him opportunity – but expect him to continue to show during Spring practices that should such an opportunity arise he is ready to make a contribution. Nevertheless, we’ll be monitoring the battle this Spring and Summer to ensure that everything is going to settle as expected in New England and suggest potential investors do the same.