The New England Patriots have 10 days to figure out how to replace WR Julian Edelman, who suffered a torn ACL and is out for the rest of the season. The team doesn’t need to have a perfect solution until November and December, but they need a basic response for the opening of the 2017 regular season.
“Between now and next weekend, when the Patriots cut their roster from 90 to 53 and then set their practice squad, I would expect them to comb the wire for a receiver,” King writes, “and perhaps send a low-round draft pick or conditional pick for a quick inside receiver who might remotely approximate what Edelman does.”
I would have suggested WR Jordan Matthews before the Eagles traded him to the Bills, but players like 49ers WR Jeremy Kerley, Jaguars WR Allen Hurns, Bears WR Kendall Wright, Vikings WR Jairus Wright, and Lions WR Jared Abbrederis could be available for the right price. Maybe the team could even call the Arizona Cardinals about Larry Fitzgerahahahaha, sorry, I couldn’t finish that sentence.
But there are veteran options ranging from red chip receivers to roster bubble players and it’s all about what the Patriots are willing to spend at the position.
King goes on to note that Edelman has averaged 8.2 receptions for 96.1 yards over his nine most recent postseason performances. I’m not sure why King didn’t just use Edelman’s previous 10 playoff games. Edelman’s played in 10 playoff games since becoming a starter in 2013; King sets the arbitrary cut off as between the divisional round and the conference championship of the 2013 postseason. Over those 10 games, Edelman has averaged 8.0 receptions for 94.9 receiving yards- and 99.3 yards from scrimmage when you add in rushing yards.
But King’s ultimate point is that Edelman elevates his play in the postseason as Tom Brady’s favorite and most dependable target, and that Edelman sees a huge target share in the Patriots offense (195 targets over 19 games in 2016!). So who can step up and replace him?
King suggests that the Patriots can increase the load for WR Chris Hogan or WR Malcolm Mitchell, or rely more on new WR Brandin Cooks. King specifically notes that he “would not expect a lot more Danny Amendola, because he hasn’t proven he can be a 1,000-snap player with his injuries.” King offers a few outside-the-box solutions, including using RB Rex Burkhead as a slot receiver, like how the Bengals used him in the 2014 playoffs.
These are all pretty simple solutions, and I would add that the presence of Dwayne Allen as a strong blocker could free up Rob Gronkowski to be more available as a receiver on the outside.
King also presents an interesting idea: what if the Patriots become a power running team?
The Patriots aren’t strangers to running the ball; their 482 rushing plays in 2016 ranked third-most in the NFL, and 45.6% of plays were runs, the fifth-highest rate in the league.
But no team in the NFL ran the ball more than 50% of the time (Dallas Cowboys ranked first at 49.4%). The team has invested in the offensive line with Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon playing at a high level and with Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason expected to take a big leap this year. The Patriots even extended FB James Develin.
As opposing defenses get lighter and lighter to defend the passing game, it makes perfect sense for the Patriots to use their versatile offensive formations- say, Cooks, Hogan, Gronkowski, Allen, and Burkhead- to simply run the ball down the gullet of opposing defenses.
If teams go heavy, the Patriots can simply empty the backfield with Gronkowski out wide and Burkhead in the slot. If teams go light, Gronkowski and Allen can come in tight to help run block.
Many solutions to replacing Edelman rely on adding new receivers to the roster. I actually really like “run the dang ball” as the smart decision based upon the Patriots current personnel.