Pondering Patriots and big receivers

The Patriots enter the 2013 offseason with questions at wide receiver, as notable players such as Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Deion Branch are all without contracts for next season.

Welker is the big-ticket free agent, and if he does not return, the team could look for a comparable player with unique quickness and change of direction in the slot (West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin is an example of such a player).

But the Patriots could also be in the market for a big-bodied wide receiver, something they lacked in 2012 and an established presence they haven't had since 2009.

That was the last season that Randy Moss was truly effective for the Patriots, and since then, the team has been without a tall, physical wide receiver who can take the top off of a defense or win in 50-50 situations against a defensive back in man coverage.

They've had bigger receivers in recent seasons such as Chad Johnson (6-foot-1, 190) and 2010 third-round pick Taylor Price (6-1, 195), but neither panned out as planned. Spanning further beyond that, the Patriots had Moss for three-plus seasons, and at his best, he provided game-changing ability due to his size mismatch against nearly any cornerback and safety.

The team also made investments in Kelley Washington (6-3, 218) in 2007 and Chad Jackson (6-1, 215), a 2006 second-round pick, but neither became a big part of the offense.

Truth be told, Moss has been the most effective and perhaps only big, physical receiver to make a lasting impact for the Patriots over the past handful of seasons.

With free agency and the draft approaching, it got us thinking about possible players who fit the mold of a big-bodied receiver.

From a free agency standpoint, the prominent big receiver on the market is Dwayne Bowe (6-2, 221), who is seeking a lucrative deal. Other than Bowe, the pickings are fairly slim.

One name to keep in mind is Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, even though he isn't a free agent at this time. ESPN's Adam Schefter recently said on “NFL Live” that Boldin is a potential cap casualty for the Ravens, who are looking to keep funds open to pay quarterback Joe Flacco.

Though by no means a speedster, Boldin is tough as nails at 6-1, 220 pounds, and as was evidenced by his performance in the Super Bowl, the kind of guy who doesn't need a bunch of space to make catches.

Along those same lines, Scouts, Inc.'s Steve Muench recently highlighted three draft prospects who compare to Boldin because of their physical style of play (Insider content): Cal's Keenan Allen, Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers and Elon's Aaron Mellette.

Allen is a candidate to be a first-round pick, while Rogers and Mellette project further down the draft boards.

Though this year's class of wide receivers appears to lack elite talent at the top, it's deep, and Allen is just one of several coveted big receiver prospects we'll learn more about as April draws nearer.