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Which Patriots will have their playing time most affected by the return of Julian Edelman?

Who will continue to play, and who will lose snaps?

NFL: New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is back from his suspension and he should take the field on Thursday Night against the Indianapolis Colts. It’s fair to wonder how much Edelman will play on Thursday and how the other players on offense will be affected by his return.

Head coach Bill Belichick spoke about the return of Edelman on Tuesday morning.

It’s “good to have him back and we’ll see [what he brings to the offense],” Belichick said. “We didn’t practice yesterday, so we’ll get moving on some things today in terms of the game plan and trying to get as far along on Indianapolis as we can. It’s going to be a crammed course and we’ll see how it all comes together.

“[Edelman] hasn’t been here in a month and it’s a short week. We’ll just have to see how things work out.”

Belichick’s highlighting of the short week suggests that Edelman probably won’t be a 100% snap player in his first game back, but that it could take some time for the squirrely receiver to get back into the swing of the offense.

There are two factors when looking at how Edelman’s return will impact other receivers: 1) the players that play the same role as Edelman; and 2) the players that benefit from a trickle-down effect with Edelman’s return.

Chris Hogan has primarily slotted into Edelman’s role as a 50-50 split player both inside in the slot and as a movable piece on the outside. Hogan has been extremely inconsistent in his contributions and it’s not entirely his fault; he just doesn’t have the same skill set at Edelman.

Edelman is able to generate separation with a few quick steps on the inside, while Hogan is best when asked to be a target deep down the field. Hogan will benefit from kicking back outside, while Edelman should take his role back in the offense.

Meanwhile, Phillip Dorsett has taken over for Hogan’s 2017 role on the outside, which included fewer deep passes than Hogan’s 2016 season (thanks to the prowess of Brandin Cooks).

Cordarrelle Patterson is a gadget player and it’s too early to make any sweeping claims about Josh Gordon’s role in the offense. Patterson should continue to be a gadget option, while Gordon’s role is still being defined.

Hogan leads the Patriots with 90.1% of the offensive snaps played, the most of any non-lineman or quarterback on the offense. He’s followed by Dorsett with 80.8% and Patterson with 39.3%. Gordon played 22.2% in his debut.

I would expect that Edelman will eventually, within a couple weeks, be an 80-90% snap player like he was from 2013-16. Chris Hogan is also an 80-90% snap player when fully engaged, so his playing time shouldn’t change much due to the introduction of Edelman. Hogan’s playing time is more likely to be jeopardized by the continued development of Josh Gordon than by the return of Edelman.

Dorsett and Patterson are the two players most likely to see a decrease in their playing time with the return of Edelman. Dorsett is more likely to see his snaps cut in half to fall in line with his playing time down the final stretch of 2017- and I say this while also believing that Dorsett played well enough in the first four games of this year to warrant siphoning away some time from Hogan, regardless of Edelman’s return.

And then Patterson, who played 21.3% of the snaps in the season opener and then saw his playing time spike to 46.3% over the past three games, should see his playing time cut back down to that original 20% as he continues to produce in gadget roles.

This exercise isn’t to set playing time in stone either; players can obviously still improve or decline and lead to additional changes in playing time. Patterson could make another huge play this week and that could get him more time. Gordon or Dorsett could eat away from Hogan based on their own performances. Edelman probably won’t be an 80% snap player in his first game back from a suspension.

But if we’re only looking at the return of Edelman and how he changes the receiver environment in the coming weeks, Dorsett and Patterson should have their playing time affected the most.