Sudden impact: Sidney Rice

(Identifying some free agents who could be a solid fit for the Patriots when the 2011 league year begins.)

Player: Sidney Rice (receiver, Vikings)

Why sign him? There is no lack of depth in the Patriots’ receiving corps, especially when personnel at tight end are considered. However, with the trade of Randy Moss to the Vikings last October, the Patriots have lacked a taller, “big play” receiver to complement the more possession-oriented options in Wes Welker and Deion Branch. An up-and-coming young player, Rice hit his stride in 2009 with 83 receptions for over 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns before an injury-shortened season in 2010.

Is there anybody else? New York Jets’ top options Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are both on the free agent market, but each player comes with off-field questions. The Giants’ Steve Smith and the Redskins’ Santana Moss are also available but have redundant skill sets to the current personnel at receiver. Trade rumors have also swirled around Carolina’s Steve Smith and Cincinnati’s Chad Ochocinco.

Key stats:

• Third- and fourth-options Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman combined for 31 receptions last season.

• Tom Brady had 231 dropbacks with at least three WR in 2010 (fewest in NFL).

• Patriots receivers had 38 drops in 2010, second-most in the NFL (Lions, 38).

• Patriots wide receivers dropped 10 percent of their end-zone targets, sixth-highest percentage in the NFL.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.