In the event of an injury to Randy Moss or Wes Welker, what are the Patriots' other options for replacing them in the passing game?
When you have a quarterback as willing to spread the ball around as much as Tom Brady does, it's important to understand the under-the-radar players in the New England Patriots' passing attack, because if something happens to either Randy Moss or Wes Welker, you want to be placing your waiver claim on the right option since this team is virtually guaranteed to finish within the top five passing offenses.
The candidates, with quick scouting reports:
Julian Edelman: The former quarterback from Kent State enters his second year in the NFL. He transitioned quickly to the wide receiver position and showed the speed and elusiveness to make him a handcuff for those drafting Wes Welker. Edelman's upside is higher than any other team's third wide receiver, and those playing in leagues with 12 teams or more cannot afford to ignore him on draft day. If Welker reinjures his knee or misses time for any other reason, Edelman, who is dealing with injury issues of his own at this point, has top-20 potential.
Brandon Tate: Tate is part of the reason the Patriots were willing to reach an injury settlement with veteran Torry Holt. A knee injury in late 2008 dropped Tate's draft stock, but the fact that Tate set the NCAA record for combined return yardage while at North Carolina convinced the Patriots to spend a third-round selection on him in the 2009 NFL draft. Now, almost two years removed from the torn ACL and MCL injuries, his speed appears to have returned, as exhibited by Tate's 97-yard kickoff return in the Patriots' preseason game versus the St. Louis Rams. Tate is the most talented of the reserves and has an outside shot of replacing Edelman as the third receiver in three wideout sets.
Taylor Price: Price is an intriguing prospect. He's 6 feet tall with 4.41 40-yard dash speed. He played "X" receiver almost exclusively for Ohio University, where he set a school record in career receptions (149) and finished second all-time in receiving yards (2,019) and touchdowns (14). Since the "X" slot is owned by Randy Moss for the Patriots, Price will have to transition to the fourth receiver slot for a chance at any targets. He's not someone to be considered unless you need a single-week fill-in in very deep redraft leagues or unless Moss finds his way onto injured reserve. For those participants in dynasty leagues, however, Price should warrant attention since Moss is in the final season of his current contract and Price could wind up fighting Tate for Moss' starting position in 2011.
Sam Aiken: The coaching staff appreciates what Aiken does for the Patriots even if it doesn't show up in the game stats. Aiken is an all-around receiver who provides depth and contributes on both the kick-return and kick-coverage aspects of special teams. There's little chance that he provides any fantasy value, but don't be surprised if he has two or three long touchdowns this season.
Alge Crumpler: While some might think joining the Patriots is the key to a resurgence for this veteran tight end's fantasy value, don't be among them. Crumpler was brought to New England to replace the blocking prowess provided by Ben Watson. Crumpler will be utilized more as an extra tackle than he will be as a pass-catching receiver. Ignore Crumpler completely throughout the season.
Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski missed his entire 2009 college season due to back surgery, but the Patriots were confident enough in him to invest a second-round draft pick. Gronkowski is simply a beast. Despite being 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, he is a precise route-runner with slightly better than average speed. In short, he's everything that Tom Brady would want in a red-zone option that's not Randy Moss, so he's got to be on the radar of anyone playing in leagues with 12 or more teams.
Aaron Hernandez: Hernandez is everything that Gronkowski isn't, and don't take that as an insult to either. Hernandez's blocking skills can best be described as a work in progress and he's anything but physical, but he can get vertical and has fantastic hands. The downside for Hernandez is tied to his blocking, but anytime he is on the field, he's there because he's going to be used as a receiver. Hernandez probably does most of his damage between the 20s, which means limited scoring opportunities, but if he can learn to become more physical, the sky is the limit.
Kevin Faulk: While running backs aren't traditionally viewed as replacements for receivers if the wideouts get hurt, Faulk is the exception to the rule. Faulk remains one of the league's most versatile backs, and coach Bill Belichick won't hesitate to run a spread offense with Faulk split out wide if the circumstance dictates it. In leagues that are 12 teams or larger and reward one point per reception, Faulk should be rostered on draft day. In smaller leagues, any injury to Moss or Welker makes Faulk an immediate pickup.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at: http://myespn.com/KenD17