Breaking It Down: Why The Patriots Have The Best Receivers In The NFL

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 21: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots celebrates his touchdown with teammate Wes Welker #83 against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half for a touchdown at Gillette Stadium on November 21, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The numbers don't lie.

As the playoffs near and the postseason snapshot comes into clearer focus for the best teams in the league, the strengths and weakness of each team are evaluated carefully. With the way that Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are playing, and the numbers that their offenses are putting up, Tom Brady and his Patriot offense have some seriously stiff competition.

The Packers are undefeated, and Rodgers' season quarterback rating of 125.3 is ridiculous. The Saints have breakout tight end Jimmy Graham and a dominant resurgence from Darren Sproles. Still, the Patriots have the league's leading receiver and the only tight end playing better than Graham right now in Rob Gronkowski; and yet they still seem to be underrated when compared with these other elite passing offenses.

Looking at the statistics, the Patriots literally have the best first, second and third receiving options in the league. Gronkowski as their number two receiver after Welker has identical numbers to Green Bay's leader Greg Jennings, with four more touchdowns and two more 20+ yard receptions.

Here is the breakdown of the top three receivers from New England, New Orleans and Green Bay, in order of receiving yards:

Player

Receptions

Yards

Touchdowns

20+ yard rec.

Wes Welker

93

1,253

8

18

Jimmy Graham

75

1,046

8

15

Greg Jennings

65

929

9

13

Rob Gronkowski

65

928

13

15

Jordy Nelson

48

878

9

12

Marques Colston

51

721

3

9

Deion Branch

48

665

4

9

Jermichael Finley

42

600

6

12

Darren Sproles

67

522

4

5

While, Gronkowski has emerged as the biggest red zone threat in the NFL in his second year in the league, he's not even the best pure receiver on his own team.

Because of his size and penchant for playing in the slot, Wes Welker is generally not considered a big play, down field receiver. But only Steve Smith and Vincent Jackson have more 20+ yard receptions that Welker on the season. The same philosophy can be applied to Deion Branch, who is currently averaging 13.9 yards per catch, as the Patriots third best receiver.

Plus, this list doesn't even mention the fact that the Patriots' other tight end Aaron Hernandez comes in just ahead of Darren Sproles in the numbers, with 54 receptions for 523 yards and five touchdowns. In fact, even with the incredible year that he has had, Sproles only has 430 yards rushing for two touchdowns to add to his better numbers in the receiving game.

Combining the numbers of each team's top three receivers, this is how it stacks up:

Team

Receptions

Yards

Touchdowns

20+ yard rec.

Patriots

206

2.846

25

42

Packers

155

2,407

24

37

Saints

193

2,289

15

29

 

Even when you stray from the statistical facts and look for intangibles, the Patriots have the edge. What shouts "intangibles" more than two 5'8" receivers and a second-year tight end that has been breaking and or shattering records since he started in the NFL?

Perhaps it is their ease of schedule as of late that has kept fans and analysts from getting too excited about the performance of the New England receivers. Yet the hyped up Green Bay passing game has won this year against the likes of the Panthers, pre-Tebow Broncos, Rams, Vikings (twice), Chargers and Buccaneers.

Another consideration to make is that each of these teams rank very low in total defense, with New Orleans ranked 27th above Green Bay and New England who round out the bottom at 31st and 32nd responsibility; and yet they are three of the best teams in the league still. Lack of defense doesn't seem to affect teams nearly as much these days if they have unstoppable offenses.

In any case, they all look poised for deep runs into the playoffs so it's easy to assume that a dynamic passing game could carry someone to the Super Bowl this year; and if it comes down to a shootout, right now there is no set of receivers better than those of the New England Patriots.  

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