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Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson vying for what could be 1 Patriots WR spot

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots released veteran wide receiver Nate Washington on Wednesday, it shed another layer off a pass-catching depth chart that coach Bill Belichick previously said was probably as good as it has been from a competition standpoint in his 17 years with the club.

Washington faced longer odds to earn a spot, in part because he doesn't contribute on special teams. Usually a backup receiver has to add value in the kicking game unless there are unique circumstances in play.

Using Washington's release as a springboard, here's how I view the team's receiver position:

Locks: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell

Biggest questions: Is Amendola ready to come off the PUP list for the Sept. 11 season opener? How much longer will Malcolm Mitchell's injured elbow -- projected to be about a four-week timeframe from Aug. 11 -- keep him out?

Others in play: Keshawn Martin, who hasn't played the first two preseason games, returned to practice this week and is a leading candidate to earn a potential fifth roster spot (or a fourth, if Amendola opens the year on reserve/PUP). Martin adds value on special teams as a returner. ... Next in line would be Aaron Dobson, who has played a lot this preseason but whose production hasn't stood out (four receptions, 37 yards). ... Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter (slot) and Devin Lucien round out the depth chart and are all practice-squad possibilities. Harper had a strong start to training camp but hasn't registered a stat in two preseason games.

Roster dynamics: With the Patriots having the luxury of keeping an extra player on the roster because Tom Brady won't count against the 53-man roster for the first four games of the year, this is a spot where the club could keep both Martin and Dobson to account for the health questions with Amendola and Mitchell. And, of course, there is always the possibility of targeting a receiver on the waiver wire if the Patriots feel it's an upgrade.