The New England Patriots lost WR Julian Edelman during the third week of the preseason with a knee injury and he was unable to return to the game. Hopefully Edelman will be fine and we will know more tomorrow, but there is a very real chance that he is done for an extended period of time.
Edelman is extremely important to the Patriots offense as one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets and one of the better receivers in the entire league. He was expected to generate a lot of yardage underneath coverages as Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks drew attention from the defensive backs.
But if Edelman is gone, that changes the calculus of the Patriots offense- and the entire roster. Here’s how everything changes.
Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks should see additional targets
Edelman was expected to be one of the top three targets on the roster, so naturally the other top targets should see their opportunities increase with Edelman sidelined. I would have expected all three to be in the 1,000-yard range as receivers, but I would expect both Gronkowski and Cooks to possibly rise into 2007 Randy Moss and Wes Welker territory in target opportunities.
Chris Hogan will have an expanded role
Hogan actually played just as much as Edelman in 2016 so his playing time won’t be new. Hogan showed his ability with 4 catches for 70 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Detroit Lions and he should have a bigger impact in the Patriots offense moving forward. He’s been used primarily as a deep ball target, but don’t be surprised if the Patriots try to find ways to use him in Edelman’s old role with 50% of the snaps in the slot. Hogan has the trust of Tom Brady.
Running backs will field more targets, too
James White was going to be a big target on the basis of his role as a third-down back, but look for Tom Brady to look to White for yards earlier in his progression. White is extremely reliable and should see a further spike in his production. The same applies to Dion Lewis, although he’s definitely White’s back-up.
There could be an open roster spot now
If Edelman is gone for the year, or even temporarily, the Patriots will have an open spot. With Matthew Slater and Malcolm Mitchell also dealing with injuries, the Patriots are suddenly thin at the position, with Cooks, Hogan, and Danny Amendola. The most natural replacement for Edelman would be Austin Carr, who also adds value as a returner.
But what if the Patriots keep just four receivers (+Slater)?
It wouldn’t be crazy for the Patriots to only keep Cooks, Hogan, Amendola, and Mitchell at the position, just like the 2012 Patriots. This could mean the Patriots would be able to keep additional players at other positions. RB D.J. Foster has experience as a slot receiver in college and he’s done everything he can to win a roster spot; the team might actually prefer to keep him over Carr. The Patriots could also keep both tight ends Jacob Hollister and James O’Shaughnessy, too.
Hopefully none of this matter and Edelman is ready to play in week 1, but there is a serious trickle-down effect for the Patriots if their star receiver misses any time. The other starters will see more targets and there are young players that now have a door to make the team.
Foster, Carr, Hollister, and all of the other bubble players now have a lot more to play for in the final week of the preseason.