The New England Patriots have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in all of football, but it is continuously getting challenged just three weeks into the regular season. After already losing the likes of David Andrews and Brandon King to season-ending ailments, the world champions have since had to place Isaiah Wynn and N’Keal Harry on injured reserve as well. Today, another player joined them.
New England has placed fullback James Develin on injured reserve today because of a neck injury he suffered in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins. The veteran already missed Sunday’s game against the New York Jets because of the issue, and will now be out for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper and find out what Develin going to IR means for the player and the Patriots as a whole.
The Patriots take Develin’s injury quite seriously
According to a report by The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, Develin is dealing with a muscle and disc issue in his upper back/neck area — one that was looked at by multiple doctors over the course of the last week. While the injury itself is not believed to be too serious and leaves the door open for a potential return this season, the timeline for a recovery remains unclear at this point. The Patriots are playing it safe by shutting the 31-year-old down for now, while taking a wait-and-see approach as it relates to his injury.
He will miss at least the next eight weeks
NFL teams are allowed to return players from injured reserve if they get moved to the list after cutdown day. Develin therefore becomes eligible for that treatment, but not before having spent at least eight weeks on IR. After six of them, he would be allowed to return to practice. Two weeks later — which would be ahead of New England’s Week 12 game against the Dallas Cowboys — the team would then have to make a decision: activate him or keep him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
All of that is only relevant, of course, if the Patriots think that Develin can return to the field at all in 2019.
One of Develin, Isaiah Wynn and N’Keal Harry will not return this season
Teams are only allowed to bring two players back off injured reserve per season. As things currently stand, however, three Patriots are eligible — and all three could have a major impact upon returning: Develin is one of the NFL’s best fullbacks and an important piece of the team’s running game and kicking game operations; Isaiah Wynn is the team’s starting left tackle; N’Keal Harry is a promising first-round rookie receiver.
At least one of the three men will end his season on injured reserve, which means that some tough decisions are waiting for Bill Belichick and company.
New England’s running game takes a hit
The Patriots have had a tough time moving the football on the ground through the first three weeks of the regular season, especially because of inconsistent blocking up front. Develin, one of the best lead blockers in all of football, would have helped in this regard but will now have to watch the team try to figure out another way of kickstarting their rushing attack. Needless to say that him being out complicates matters significantly.
Jakob Johnson will see a bigger role moving forward
With Develin out of the picture for at least eight weeks, the Patriots are expected to turn to Jakob Johnson to fill his spot on the team — just like he did on Sunday against the Jets. The first-year man, who came to New England via the NFL’s International Pathway program, is a clear downgrade from Develin and lacks his experience but has apparently shown notable development at this stage early in his career.
The team therefore promoted him from the practice squad to the active roster last week, and he will likely stay there for the time being. His workload, however, is expected to increase significantly after Johnson played a mere two snaps on offense and six in the kicking game against New York.
The Patriots have one open spot on their 53-man roster
Shortly after the news of Develin’s trip to injured reserve broke, the Patriots made the move official — creating an open spot on their active roster. How will it be filled? With Johnson on the team already, it appears unlikely that another fullback gets added. Instead, the team will likely target an area of need which means that wide receiver or tight end (at least until Benjamin Watson returns from his suspension after Week 4) could be atop the list of priorities.