The New England Patriots, who are currently in their middle of their 2019 preseason, have 89 players on their active roster at the moment. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one New England’s defensive linemen.
Name: Derek Rivers
Position: Defensive edge/outside linebacker
Jersey number: 95
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6’5, 250 lbs.
2018 review: After missing all of 2017 due to a torn ACL suffered in training camp, Derek Rivers was back on the practice fields during spring workouts. Displaying some solid progress after a year of rehab, he received plenty of reps with the starting defense and lined up in multiple techniques on the interior and the edge. The Patriots apparently felt comfortable with his development and opted to use him extensively in preseason as well.
However, Rivers was unable to build on this success: in the regular season, he saw only irregular action and appeared in just six of New England’s games. Primarily lining up as an outside linebacker/end hybrid, he was on the field for a combined 78 snaps (of 1,043; 7.5%) on defense and a mere 3 on special teams (of 453; 0.7%). He added 19 more defensive snaps (of 188; 10.1%) during his one playoff appearance in the divisional round.
By all accounts, Rivers was therefore little more than a depth option in 2018. As such, the former third-round draft pick was used in a specialized role and as a pass-rushing specialist: New England employed him on its sub packages and in third-and-long situations to get after the quarterback, something he did with inconsistent success. All in all, he registered only 4 quarterback disruptions (1 sack, 2 hits, 1 hurry) during his seven games.
Despite his limited action and somewhat inconsistent performances, Rivers’ season can be seen as a success: not only did the Youngstown State product earn his first Super Bowl ring, he also was able to come back from a devastating knee injury to earn a spot on New England’s roster and subsequently carve out a role as a depth option. He may not have been a prominent part of the Patriots defense, but he sure took a step forward in 2018.
2019 preview: Rivers’ first year in the NFL was derailed by injuries, and his third one is off to a rocky start as well. While he did see considerable action with the starting defense during training camp and generally looked good during 1-on-1s and in team drills, the 25-year-old suffered an undisclosed injury during the second preseason game and has been absent ever since — certainly not an encouraging development for Rivers.
This rings especially true considering that he built an impressive case to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster before his injury. New England used him primarily as a stand-up outside linebacker in its 3-4 looks, and Rivers appeared to look comfortable in this role. Furthermore, he also saw plenty of action during the preseason: he played 32 of a possible 112 defensive snaps over the first games (28.6%) as well as 7 (of 48; 14.6%) in the kicking game.
His snap numbers would certainly have been higher if not for his injury early in the second contest. When he was on the field, however, Rivers performed well and registered a pair of sacks while also improved in the running game. But of course, his medical situation will play a role in his long-term outlook: if he can get healthy quickly, he has a realistic chance of making the team as a rotational player on the defensive edge.
If the issue continues, however, both a release in favor of another player — likely fellow outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun — or a move to injured reserve are possible as well. Either way, Rivers heads towards 2019’s rosters cuts as a make-or-break player.