Three and out: Pats have WR decisions to make

Branch wants to remain a Patriot: After their Super Bowl defeat with the spotlight shining on key drops by receivers, the Patriots will have to think about the pass-catcher position in the offseason. Deion Branch, who will be a free agent in March, says he wants to play next season and finish his career in New England. Then there is the issue of what happens with the supremely disappointing Chad Ochocinco, although it seems likely that he’ll be peddling his wares away from Foxborough next season. The easiest piece of the puzzle will be keeping Wes Welker, whether it’s through a long-term deal or via the franchise tag. Welker will remain a No. 1 fantasy WR in 2012, while Branch could rank as a low-end No. 2 or more likely flex player. And Ochocinco? Until he once again becomes a viable weapon, you won’t have to worry about him.

Gronkowski not planning on surgery: The reason Branch won’t be rated much better than a low-end No. 2 WR is the expected recovery for TE Rob Gronkowski. The big tight end was a non-factor Sunday, in large part because of the high ankle sprain that was the talk of Indianapolis for much of the week. The good news is that Gronk says he has no plans for offseason surgery and will just opt for treatment. There’s no reason to think he won’t be 100 percent by the start of training camp. He should once again be a prime target for Tom Brady and should very likely be the first TE off the board in all drafts.

Ballard might need surgery: It was a rough day for tight ends with the Giants losing both Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard to knee injuries. Beckum tore his ACL and will need surgery while Ballard suffered a cartilage tear and might need to go under the knife. Because of the timing of the injury, it’s hard to imagine Beckum being ready for the start of next season, which will have little to no impact from a fantasy perspective. Ballard, however, came on later in the season as a consistent target for Eli Manning. Heading into his third season, the former Ohio State Buckeye projects as a solid No. 2 TE, but if he’s not ready for the start of the year, that ranking could take a hit.

— Marcas Grant

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