Heading into a pivotal Week 8 matchup against the Buffalo Bills, the New England Patriots’ offense is facing some major question marks. Quarterback Cam Newton has been shaky as of late; the tight end position continues to provide little in the passing game; the offensive line has both starting guards listed as questionable to participate on Sunday. And then there is the wide receiver position.
Not only has second-year man N’Keal Harry already been ruled out for the game in Buffalo after suffering a concussion last week versus the San Francisco 49ers, veteran Julian Edelman also will be a no-show after undergoing a procedure on his knee earlier this week. That procedure and the ensuing recovery process will keep Edelman out not just for the upcoming game versus the Bills, but also for at least two additional weeks.
The Patriots, after all, have officially moved him to their injured reserve list on Saturday. With the team’s leading receiver in both targets, receptions and yards no unavailable for the foreseeable future, the rest of the wide receiver group will have to step up. How could this process look like, though? Let’s take a look at the candidates to find out.
Quick note: The positional categories listed here are not exclusive, with players moving around the lineup on a regular basis. They do, however, show where each player has been used most prominently so far this season.
While both Edelman and Harry are out this week, the Patriots’ number one receiver in terms of playing time is still available: Damiere Byrd, who has been on the field for 360 of a possible 389 offensive snaps through six games this year (92.5%), is projected to again play a sizable role in the team’s aerial attack this week. The question, of course, becomes whether or not the first-year Patriot will be able to step up his production after averaging three catches and 38 receiving yards per game through Week 7.
In the long term, Harry will re-join the X-receiver group as the second perimeter target alongside Byrd. Versus Buffalo, however, the former first-round draft pick will not be a part of New England’s offense just yet. Accordingly, Byrd will not just be the primary option at the position but — given that Matthew Slater is almost exclusively employed on special teams — the only one.
Isaiah Zuber (practice squad)
Kristian Wilkerson (practice squad)
While Edelman played primarily in the slot so far this year, his value extended beyond the inside of the formation: he was a true Z-receiver and was employed in a variety of ways. With him gone, the Patriots will likely give their WR4 additional playing time. Jakobi Meyers looked solid against San Francisco last week while taking the field in place of N’Keal Harry, but he will have to continue building on this performance in order to give quarterback Cam Newton a viable target alongside Damiere Byrd.
The other two men listed here are both on the practice squad, with Zuber having been elevated to the game day roster for the fourth time just on Saturday. It remains to be seen how the undrafted rookie factors into the mix, though, after he has only 20 in-game snaps on his résumé so far.
Mason Kinsey (practice squad)
Without Edelman, the Patriots’ three-receiver sets could feature a heavy dose of Gunner Olszewski. The second-year man had a quiet regular season so far after being a standout during training camp, but he and Jakobi Meyers will likely take over the primary slot role depending on the package. So far this year, however, Olszewski has played only 10 offensive snaps, aligning in the slot on nine of them.
New England also has undrafted rookie Mason Kinsey available as a depth option on the practice squad, but he will not participate in the game against Buffalo. Kinsey is a candidate to be brought up through this year’s standard elevations the next two weeks, if the coaching staff sees him as a possible contributor like Isaiah Zuber.