Pats pass-catchers reliable, dependable

Using targets and receptions as a baseline, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite receivers in 2011 were Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Welker finished with an NFL-best 122 catches, while Gronkowski and Hernandez finished first and fourth, respectively, among tight ends in receiving yardage.

One reason that Brady may have turned to this trio so often: reliability, and specifically their ability to consistently catch the football.

Of the 39 players who were targeted more than 100 times during the 2011 regular season, Welker finished 6th in receptions per drop (30.5), Gronkowski 15th (22.5), and Hernandez tied for 19th (19.8). (Kudos to Mike Sando of ESPN.com for compiling the list).

Given the volume of throws each was targeted, it’s an impressive statistic that speaks to their reliability on the field. All three showed an ability to make difficult catches, and each projects to be an integral part of the offense in 2012.

Despite finishing near the top of the NFL in numerous passing categories, the Patriots have added several weapons to the receiving corps this offseason, including Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Lloyd.

Brady praised Gaffney last season before the Patriots played the Redskins (Gaffney spent the 2011 season in Washington), saying, "He's just one of those guys that, from the day we got him here, he was just so reliable and dependable.”

Approaching that comment statistically, it’s not hard to understand why the quarterback felt that way, as Gaffney finished fourth in the NFL in 2011 with 34.0 receptions per drop.

Lloyd checked in a little further down the list, but still totaled nearly 18 receptions per drop.

With these five receivers in the fold, plus a number of other reliable targets to round out the offense, it would appear that Brady will once again have dependable pass catchers surrounding him heading into 2012.