Predictions: Who'll be Brady's top targets?

Who among this group will earn Tom Brady's trust as a top target? Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Tom Brady will take the field Sunday without his top five pass-catchers from last season (assuming Rob Gronkowski is out), a storyline that’s been followed closely during training camp and the preseason.

Among his targets are five rookies, a new slot receiver with big shoes to fill and few familiar faces.

Still, with Brady at quarterback, you can bet the yardage and touchdowns will pile up. But who will be on the receiving end? More than any season in Bill Belichick’s tenure as coach, that answer is difficult to project.

So we asked our two Patriots reporters to take a crack at it. Here’s how they see it playing out:

Based on numbers from previous seasons, we’re projecting Brady to throw for 4,700 yards with 400 completions and 35 touchdown passes. How will those stats be distributed among individual pass-catchers?

Reiss' breakdown: If it works out like this, it’s a reflection of a successful passing game because the production is well distributed. I would have put Amendola over the 100-catch mark if there was a guarantee he’d be on the field for 16 games. So I played it a little conservatively with him, even though I think he’s primed for a big season. Had the weighted scale on Gronkowski given his health and projecting he might only play 10-14 games. Thompkins looks ready to emerge as the team’s No. 2 or 3 receiver over rookies Boyce and Dobson, so he lands higher on the list. Vereen could have a Kevin Faulk-presence in the passing game from the running back spot.

Yates' breakdown: Just how do the Patriots overcome the loss of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd?

It starts with the addition of Amendola, who should have a Welker-like season. The kicker for Amendola is playing 16 games, and we’ll stick by our summer prediction of him achieving that mark while surpassing the 110-catch plateau.

On Gronkowski, while a Week 1 return has effectively been ruled out, a late September reappearance looks more likely. We’re projecting at least 13 games played for the big tight end, with Sudfeld expected to hold the fort in the interim. The difference between this year’s passing game and last’s is the emergence of a more reliable three-receiver set, as Thompkins and Edelman have what it takes to support Amendola in “11” personnel groupings.

4,700 yards would be no small accomplishment for this turned-over receiving corps, but part of what it lost in experience it gained in dynamic run-after-catch ability. That was an area that Lloyd provided little in throughout much of the 2012 season, but Thompkins and Edelman should enhance.

Your turn: How would you distribute the Patriots' catches (400), receiving yards (4,700) and touchdown catches (35)? Share your predictions in the comments section. At the end of the season, we’ll recognize the reader who was closest to the actual numbers.