Week 3 of the pre-season brought bad tidings for the New England Patriots.
On August 25th, wide receiver Julian Edelman endured a non-contact injury against the Detroit Lions that will sideline him for the season. Edelman landed on his foot wrong in an attempt to juke multiple Lions’ defenders in the exhibition match-up.
This resulted in a tear of Edelman’s right ACL – an injury all too common for pro football players and fans alike. For Edelman, this injury could come at the worst of times. The standout wide receiver is 31 working with a talent pool at his position unlike any other group in the league. For some players, they never come back from an ACL tear.
The most likely scenario is that Edelman is able to come back fine. There are no prior injury reports for Edelman’s right ACL, although he has history of injuring his right foot. Still, ACL repair has come a long way in this century and he has an entire year to nurse himself back to full health. If there was ever a right time to tear your ACL, it’d be in the pre-season.
A great example of a wide receiver undergoing the same problem is wide receiver Jordy Nelson of the Green Bay Packers. He too was a star for his team and a trusted option for Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as well as being 30 at the time of his injury. An ACL tear had him out for the season, and last season he was able to catch 97 balls to go along with 14 touchdowns and 1,257 yards. Not too shabby.
I’m not saying we can expect Edelman to have a top-tier season again, but I’m not saying we should doubt him either.
As for the Patriots roster this season, what can we look forward to seeing now that there is an open competition for the starting wide receiver role?
There is no question that replacing Edelman’s 98 catches and 1,106 yard season from last year is not going to be easy, but I think there is enough talent in place that patching-up this problem will come naturally.
We can assume standout wide receiver Brandin Cooks will be a starter, the number one wide-receiver option, and will put up a successful season with Tom Brady throwing the rock. However; I don’t think that it will necessarily start that way. The Patriots success begins with understanding the system in which the team operates from. Giving Brandin some time to learn the system in real game-time situations and easing him into a bigger role is likely the move that a level-headed and logical Bill Belichick will use. In the mean time, expect players to fill in that already know the system well. Chris Hogan will likely maintain as a deep threat and vertical option, but he could likely play slot receiver too.
To fill the slot, if it doesn’t start with Chris Hogan it will probably start with Danny Amendola. Danny came in to fill the slot role of Wes Welker originally, but Edelman stole the role from him. Amendola, while not our best option, has plenty of talent but most importantly has a knack for showing up when he needs to and has played with Brady enough where he could come in and provide from the get-go. Although Hogan could do the same thing, I do thing Belichick likes having him as a vertical threat more. Even if Hogan starts the season in the slot, he will likely transition back to his role last year when another player comes into place.
The other player I’m talking about is none other than Malcolm Mitchell. Ranked right behind Edelman in the depth chart, the 6-1 Mitchell will be entering his sophomore season in the league after putting up a quiet 32 catches, 401 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. The Patriots love Mitchell, and Mitchell loves the Patriots. It was rumored last season that he was a freak of studying the playbook among other rookies last year, and I think that his work ethic will pay off this year.
It also shouldn’t surprise you that Bill Belichick would like to groom some homegrown talent when he has the chance.
Speaking of chance, there’s a solid chance that I’m wrong about easing Mitchell into the starting role. Maybe he and Cooks will be the starters from the get-go. But in my opinion, I think it makes sense to see Hogan and Amendola early and end the year with Mitchell at the slot, Cooks at the Y and Hogan as your vertical threat with Amendola able to sub into any of those roles.
Even if it all works out perfectly, we will all be eager to see Julian Edelman suit up next season.