Positional groupings & WR quality/depth

Each week during the 2012 season, the positional groupings utilized by the Patriots were charted on ESPNBoston.com. The idea of tracking the groupings was tied to hopefully gaining a better understanding of how the Patriots were attempting to attack the opposition.

The groupings also can tie in to assessing player and positional value, which is an area I wanted to dive in to today.

Over the course of the 2012 regular season, the Patriots had two or more tight ends on the field for almost an even 50 percent of their snaps. That is lower than expected and ties directly to injuries sustained by Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. If those two tight ends were healthy over the duration of the season, the percentage probably would be closer to 75 percent, if not higher.

The trickle-down effect of that is that the Patriots ran an almost even 50 percent of their 2012 regular-season snaps with three or more receivers on the field.

This highlights the importance of the No. 3 receiver spot. Deion Branch (38.9 percent playing time), Julian Edelman (24.1 percent) and Donte’ Stallworth (1.6 percent) filled that role at various times, filling in behind starters Wes Welker (87.5 percent) and Brandon Lloyd (84.8 percent).

Edelman had the most notable production of that group, but his season was cut short in December because of a foot injury.

As we spin things forward to 2013, rebuilding/restocking the receiver position figures to be a focus for the Patriots. More quality and depth is needed. From this viewpoint, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they approach the receiver position the way they did the tight end spot in recent years, with a double-layered plan between free agency and the draft.

This would be some of the team’s best insurance in the event Gronkowski and Hernandez once again deal with unexpected injuries. While the Patriots built better depth at tight end to help fill the void created by those injuries in 2012, there was an expected drop-off because Gronkowski and Hernandez are unique talents.

Better quality and depth at receiver could have also helped offset that blow, which I’d imagine will come up when Bill Belichick and his coaches conclude their 2012 reviews.