Last season, the biggest surprise on the entire Patriots roster was arguably wide receiver Brandon LaFell. The reason why he was such a pleasant surprise for Patriots fans was due to the fact that the team had struck out on so many free agent wide receivers in recent years.
Brandon, “Jojo” LaFell started his professional career with the Carolina Panthers when they drafted him in the third round out of Louisiana State. LaFell was a part of the 2008 BCS National Championship squad in Baton Rouge. In total, LaFell’s four seasons in Carolina were all very similar. In his four years, he finished with 167 receptions, for 2,385 yards, and 13 touchdowns.
He was always the number three receiver on the depth chart, playing primarily in the slot. At 6-2, 208 pounds he is not your normal slot receiver, size wise. LaFell has always talked about how he learned a lot from veteran and perennial Pro-Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith. It is never a bad thing to spend every day in the meeting room as a young player with someone who will have a spot in Canton one day.
In March of 2014, LaFell became an unrestricted free agent. A few days into free agency LaFell signed a three-year nine million dollar contract with New England. At the start of his Patriots career, LaFell had a very tough time getting on the same page with Tom Brady. He did not even have a reception until week three against Oakland.
In garbage time in a week four Monday night blowout at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, “Jojo” had six catches, for 119 yards, and an impressive touchdown where he broke free from multiple defenders. That second half really light a fire under LaFell and spring boarded him for the rest of the season.
Brandon LaFell did not have a lot of big time statistical games, outside of week eight against Chicago. In that matchup he brought in eleven receptions, for 124 yards, and a touchdown. He finished the season with 74 receptions, for 953 yards, and seven touchdowns.
LaFell’s biggest attribute to the team was his ability to shine in big moments. In a week thirteen matchup against the Green Bay Packers, LaFell had two huge touchdown receptions. One in the second quarter on a third and goal situation and one in the fourth quarter in the back corner of the end zone that brought the Patriots back into the game.
In the divisional round of the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens Brandon LaFell had the go-ahead touchdown on a picture perfect play with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Patriots were at the Ravens twenty-five yard line on a first and ten play, when Brandon LaFell toasted Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin on the outside on a beautiful fade route.
Brady put the ball right in LaFell’s hands for the touchdown putting the Patriots ahead 34-31. In addition, Brandon LaFell had the first score of Super Bowl XLIX with his eleven yard touchdown catch, putting a great move on Seattle cornerback Tharold Simon.
So far in the 2015 season, Brandon LaFell has yet to participate in a practice, spending all of training camp thus far on the physically unable to perform list. He is believed to have some sort of lower leg injury that has derailed his offseason. However, he was recently seen walking without a boot, which is a promising sign.
LaFell’s injury would be more alarming if it were his first season with the team, or if he was a younger player with less pro experience. He gained the trust of Tom Brady faster than any free agent wide receiver that I can remember, (Randy Moss and Wes Welker were acquired via trade).
Once LaFell makes his return he should be able to jump right back into that second wide receiver spot behind Julian Edelman. He is not an outside threat, but he is a big body that can be very effective in the red zone. Keep an eye out for him in your fantasy drafts.
LaFell is also a great drive starter as he proved last season. In addition to his pass catching ability, LaFell is the Patriots best and most physical blocking receiver. He is not afraid to scrap with opposing defensive backs and clear lanes on outside run plays. Also, he successfully pulled off the, “pick play” a couple of times last year.
In conclusion, if Brandon LaFell can fight through nagging injuries once again, expect him to be as consistent as he was last season. Pencil him in for about sixty or seventy receptions with a high number of touchdowns.