The New England Patriots currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns over the next two days and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the offseason, we take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with a player returning from injured reserve.
Name: Derek Rivers
Position: Defensive edge
Jersey number: 95
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’5, 250 lbs.
2017 review: Derek Rivers was the first of the Patriots’ league-low four selections during last year’s draft, getting picked in the third round (#83) after a standout career at Youngstown state. Early on during his first offseason in the NFL, he showed why New England invested in him to help solidify a defensive edge that lost three of its top four options of 2016 – Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard – over the course of the offseason.
Rivers was competitive early on during the Patriots’ training camp and joint practices, and appeared to be well on his way to earn a top spot in the team’s edge rotation and potentially serve as the starter opposite Trey Flowers. Leading up to New England’s second preseason game, however, he tore his ACL and was subsequently placed on injured reserve – ending what started to look like a promising rookie campaign.
2018 preview: Rivers returned to the field for spring’s organized team activities, and displayed some solid progress after a year of rehab. The second-year man received plenty of reps with the top defensive unit, and lined up in multiple techniques on the interior and the edge. The Patriots apparently also felt comfortable with his development and opted to use him extensively over their four preseason contests.
Overall, Rivers was on the field for 37.3% of New England’s defensive snaps (106 of 284) as a rotational option on the edge. In this role, he registered 1.0 sacks as well as three quarterback hits. Being used both against the run and the pass, Rivers showcased some of the traits that made him an intriguing prospect last season – which is potentially good news for New England’s outlook along the defensive edge this year.
Ultimately, it would not be a surprise if Rivers’ regular season usage and playing time looked similar to his preseason. As an able edge setter in the ground game and a pass rusher, he could be used in various situations – giving the Patriots flexibility when it comes to their rotation with Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Adrian Clayborn. And while he may not have the same immediate impact the other three are projected to have, his availability alone makes the group a deeper and more talented one.