With the 59th overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected six-foot-three-inch Aaron Dobson, a wide receiver out of Marshall. The selection of a wide receiver was viewed as a need, especially having lost Tom Brady's favorite target over the past five years, Wes Welker, to free agency.
Belichick has had mixed results in the past when it comes to drafting wide receivers (see Chad Jackson, Trevor Price), and the last time the franchise was able to develop a true number one wide receiver was with Deion Branch waaaay back in 2002. Since that year, (when they also drafted David Givens who had a successful run in New England before injuring his knee as a Tennessee Titan and being forced to retire) the Patriots have relied heavily upon imports and castoffs of other NFL teams.
This season, however Belichick, Brady & Co. will be forced to rely upon Dobson and fellow rookie Josh Boyce to have an immediate impact at the NFL level. How quickly Dobson can adapt to life at the NFL level, as well as his role in the offense will be key factors in the Patriots latest attempt to get Tom Brady one more(last?) ring.
The Patriots do have some deep roots with the Marshall receiving corp, as the most famous Mashall alum, Randy Moss was a key cog in the Patriots historic 18-1 run that fell just short of the title, and immortality, in 2007. Moss was one Marshall receiving product that lived up to his college stat line, with his single season at the Division 1-A level earned him consensus All-Pro honors with this gaudy stat-line: 96 receptions for 1,820 yards and TWENTY SIX touchdowns!
Another New England/Marshall connection lies in Troy Brown. Brown, once the Patriots All-Time leader in receptions before being eclipsed by Welker, led Marshall to the Division 1-AA national title in 1991. Browns college numbers hinted at what would await him at the NFL level, when he was given the opportunity.Moss' NFL exploits are legendary, and his imprint upon the Patriots still lingers in the memories of fans. While a Moss comparison would be tantalizing to Patriot Nation, its not likely for a few years.
But not all Marshall products have lived up to their potential; Darius Watts was a standout receiver from 2000-03, and just like Dobson, was a second round pick, albeit by the Denver Broncos. Watts posted excellent numbers during his collegiate career finishing with 272 catches for 4,031 yards and 47 touchdowns.
He was finished in the NFL after two disappointing seasons that saw him catch just 33 passes for 407 yards and a lone touchdown. While Watts has gone on to become a star in the (now defunct?) Arena Football League, he never lived up to his draft potential.
Dobson's college numbers don't exactly jump out in comparison to Watts, or even Moss', but they do show promise. From 2009-12 Dobson hauled in 165 passes for 2,398 yards, and 24 touchdowns. Twelve of his scores came in the 2011 season when he finished 7th in the NCAA in receiving touchdowns, showing his potential to be an impact performer.
This impact maybe a necessary ingredient for New England to find success this season, as they have had a major overhaul in their receiving corp, and the players on the roster now, have dubious injury histories at best.
Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Amendola, and Julian Edelman have all missed significant amounts of time in recent years, and the Patriots free agent additions of Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins aren't guaranteed roster spots, or to grasp the depth of Josh McDaniel's playbook.
Add in the loss of Welker and Brandon Lloyd during the off-season and the need for Dobson to contribute immediate is clear.
Bill Belichick believes he saw something special in Dobson at Marshall's pro-day, and for the sake of the Patriots' title hopes, he needs to be right. Only time can tell which mold Dobson will come out of.