FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had just announced they claimed wide receivers Amara Darboh (Seahawks) and Chad Hansen (Jets) on waivers Sunday when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels approached a table where reporters waited. He didn’t have much to offer.
“I’m familiar with them, but in terms of specifics and details, I’ll defer to coach [Belichick] on that because I’ve been locked in a room here the last couple days working on Houston,” McDaniels said. “Those guys, I’ve heard of their names, and I’m familiar with them, but we’ll see what happens when and if that comes to fruition.”
The answer highlighted the unusual situation the Patriots find themselves in, balancing preparations for the season opener against the Texans on Sunday while also filling out a receiver depth chart that was depleted after a series of personnel moves didn’t pan out.
When asked if he has ever been part of a team with such a thin and evolving receiving corps at this time of year, McDaniels put a positive spin on things by saying, “I never really look at it like that ... I look at it more in terms of our overall skill group. I love the group we have.”
It helps, of course, to have tight end Rob Gronkowski as part of that group.
As history has shown, McDaniels and quarterback Tom Brady have done more with less at receiver, but how much less? It sparks the question: How does the 2018 opening-week group of receivers -- Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Pattrerson, Darboh and Hansen -- compare with the opening week receivers from the rest of the Bill Belichick era.
With the benefit of knowing how it unfolded in past years, let’s go to the rankings and assess where 2018 fits.
2007: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Kelley Washington
What resulted was a record-breaking season for both Brady (50 touchdowns) and Moss (23 receiving touchdowns), and Welker totaling 112 receptions.
Best of the rest
2002: Troy Brown, David Patten, Deion Branch, Donald Hayes, David Givens
2003: Deion Branch, Troy Brown, David Patten, Bethel Johnson, David Givens
2004: Deion Branch, Troy Brown, David Patten, Bethel Johnson, David Givens
2005: Deion Branch, David Givens, Troy Brown, Bethel Johnson, Tim Dwight
Hitting on 2002 second-round pick Deion Branch and 2002 seventh-rounder David Givens put this four-year stretch near the top of the charts. Pairing them with Patten and Brown made for a solid group that was critical to Brady's early success as a starter.
2008: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney, Kelley Washington, Sam Aiken
This was still a potent group -- Welker had 111 receptions and Moss 69 -- but it was also different with Matt Cassel throwing to them instead of Brady (torn ACL). Gaffney was a solid No. 3.
Middle of the road
This was one that might have looked shaky early on, but turned out OK. The combination of Edelman breaking out (105 catches) and Amendola (54) joining the club as a big-money free-agent added a spark, as did the energy brought by rookies Dobson (37 catches) and Thompkins (32).
2014: Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson
Adding LaFell (74 catches) created a nice 1-2 combination with Edelman, allowing Amendola to settle into a No. 3 role. But Thompkins and Dobson faded quickly, bringing the overall group down a bit.
2016: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell
Hogan was a solid free-agent signing from the Bills as a complementary piece, with Mitchell (32 catches) showing immediate promise before knee issues knocked him off course the following season.
2017: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett
This would have been a notch higher had Julian Edelman not torn his ACL in the preseason, as the addition of Cooks added speed and explosiveness. A top group of Cooks-Hogan-Amendola was effective.
Solid, but lacking depth
2000: Terry Glenn, Troy Brown, Tony Simmons, Chris Calloway
Brown led the way with 83 catches for 944 yards, while Glenn added 79 for 963 and six touchdowns. That's a solid one-two punch, but it fell off after them.
2001: David Patten, Troy Brown, Bert Emmanuel, Charles Johnson
The combination of Patten and Brown was solid, with Brown totaling 101 receptions on his way to Patriots Hall of Fame distinction. But similar to the year before, not much after that.
2009: Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Julian Edelman, Joey Galloway, Sam Aiken
Brady returned from missing the prior season and Welker had 123 receptions, while Moss added 83, but as Belichick had said in a documentary film, once defenses took them away there wasn’t enough. A third option would have helped.
2011: Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price
At the time of the opener, there was hope Ochocinco would be a part of the team’s plans, but that ultimately fizzled fast. Branch was slowing down and Edelman (four catches) was still finding his way. So they fed Welker (122 catches).
2012: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Greg Salas
Lloyd had 74 receptions, and while it wasn’t always smooth, he was ultimately a nice complement to Welker (118). Some projected Salas for a 61-catch big impact, but it never materialized, while Edelman was one year away from a big breakthrough.
2015: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper
Brandon LaFell missed the first quarter of the season with a foot injury, and when he returned, he fought through some issues with drops. So after Edelman and Amendola, it was shaky.
Significant question mark
2010: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price
It might have looked good on paper, but Edelman was in his second year and hadn’t emerged, then the wheels fell off when Moss became distracted and was ultimately traded. That led the team to reacquire Deion Branch during the season and experiment with more two-tight end sets.
2018: Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Amara Darboh, Chad Hansen
It will help to have Julian Edelman returning from suspension in Week 5, but after carrying three on the initial roster and claiming Darboh and Hansen seven days before the opener highlights present concerns.
As lean as it gets
2006: Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown, Bam Childress, Chad Jackson, Doug Gabriel
Brady helped lead the Patriots to the AFC Championship game that year, one of the great accomplishments of his career. Jabar Gaffney would be added later in the year.