After a career high 637 passing attempt season from Tom Brady, the Patriots passing offense is slated to “regress”, per TV experts. Only 101 completions return from the 2012 Patriots season. Those who left New England, in one way or another, are: Wes Welker (118 receptions and 1,354 yards), Brandon Lloyd (74 receptions and 911 yards), Aaron Hernandez (51 receptions and 483 yards), Danny Woodhead (40 receptions and 446 yards), Deion Branch (16 receptions and 145 yards), Donte Stallworth (1 reception and 2 yards), and Kellen Winslow (1 reception and 2 yards).
With those seven targets leaving Foxborough, only one wide-receiver, Julian Edelman, returns to the Patriots with a 2012 reception.
Gronkowski leads the returning passing targets with 55 receptions and 790 yards, but is still battling through injuries which forced him to have off-season surgery. Edelman, who had 235 receiving yards, would be second in line as far as a returning passing target. After that, the next highest target would be Shane Vereen, a running back with 8 receptions in 2012.
New England addressed the need prior to the draft by signing Danny Amendola, a younger, injury-prone version of Wes Welker, and Michael Jenkins, a former first round pick. Even with those pickups, the Patriots weren't satisfied. An injury-prone target and a 31 year old receiver wouldn't make up for starting the 2013 season with, possibly, none of the top-four targets from 2012 on the field.
After trading in their first round pick, the Patriots were active the final two days of the draft, adding two receivers, among many other players, to the mix.
Aaron Dobson, selected fifty-ninth in the draft, was the sixth wide-receiver off the board at the time. Known for his one handed catch against East Carolina, the big, fast target was considered to have “slipped” to end of the second round. As early as April, many considered Dobson a draft “steal” and speculated that he could be in the running for the starting job. Dobson missed combine drills due to a hamstring injury, but measured in at almost 6'3”, and he performed well at his pro day, posting a 4.37 40 yard dash and 35-inch vertical.
His jumping ability has never been in question; Dobson actually was recruited by Hofstra to play both football and basketball coming out of high school. Dobson ended up choosing Marshall over another in-state school, West Virginia, and was the leading target his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. Although his numbers in 2012 dropped, he didn't. Dobson didn't let a single pass drop his final season. Overall, it's a safe bet to assume Dobson gets a couple starts by the season's end.
The second receiver taken by New England, Josh Boyce, was selected in the forth round. Boyce, who started 33 games in his three eligible years at TCU, like Dobson, had a combine setback. A broken pinkie kept him from running drills in Indianapolis, and he missed rookie camp snaps due to the same foot.
Thankfully for the Patriots, he was ready to go by the time OTAs started. Whereas Dobson is more of an outside target, Boyce could be better suited for the inside. With Amendola just signing a big contract, it's likely Boyce either get time outside, as the second slot option, or on special teams, though.
Either way, both have chances to do something rarely seen by Belichick-Era Patriot rookies: catch 20+ passes. According to NESN, only two players have ever so. With a great number of Brady targets leaving before the 2013 season started and Gronkowski's injury-concerns, it would not be a great leap to project either, or both, to have 20+ receptions and for them make significant impacts as rookies.