Before their Week 8 game against the Buffalo Bills, the New England Patriots had to send their most experienced pass catcher to the injured list: Julian Edelman recently underwent a procedure on his knee and is expected to miss several weeks. With the MVP of Super Bowl 53 out for the foreseeable future, the team’s slot was left undermanned. This situation has now led to the Patriots making a trade ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s deadline.
According to reports that have yet to be confirmed by either of the teams involved, New England sent a seventh-round draft pick in 2020 to the Miami Dolphins to bring Isaiah Ford on board. Based on his prior usage, the fourth-year man is expected to fill the role previously held by Edelman. Let us therefore look how the Patriots’ wide receiver group appears with the 24-year-old now part of the team.
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.
The X-receiver group features New England’s top two wide receivers in terms of playing time. One of them is Damiere Byrd. The first-year Patriot has been on the field for 425 of a possible 454 offensive snaps through seven games this year (93.6%) and is projected to continue playing a sizable role in the team’s offensive attack on a week-to-week basis moving forward. He is tied with Edelman and James White for the team-lead in receptions (21) and is ranked second in receiving yards (272)
The other player worth mentioning is N’Keal Harry, who has 19 catches for 172 yards so far but has appeared in one fewer game than Byrd: the former first-round draft pick had to sit out the contest in Buffalo after sustaining a concussion the previous week. Harry will eventually re-join the X-group as the second perimeter target alongside Byrd, giving the team some solid depth there compared to the other receiving positions.
The third player listed above, after all, is almost exclusively employed on special teams: Matthew Slater rarely sees the field on offense and has not caught a pass since 2011.
Isaiah Zuber (practice squad)
Kristian Wilkerson (practice squad)
Julian Edelman played primarily inside the formation before his knee procedure, but his positional value extended beyond this particular usage. He is more of a Z-receiver than a pure slot, even though the Patriots still employed him on the inside of the formation more often this year while Byrd and Harry took over Z-responsibilities on a regular basis.
The recent emergence of Jakobi Meyers — he caught 10 passes for 118 yards over the last two weeks — and the acquisition of Isaiah Ford change the outlook, however. Meyers now appears to be the top Z-option with Gunner Olszewski also joining on the group after his impact from the slot was limited last week. Regardless of Harry’s and Edelman’s respective injury statuses, the two second-year men will likely see regular package-specific action centered more around the Z-position and their respective skillsets moving forward.
Isaiah Zuber, who was elevated from the practice squad four times so far this season, and Kristian Wilkerson offer developmental depth on the practice squad.
Mason Kinsey (practice squad)
Julian Edelman (injured reserve)
It would not be a surprise to see the primary slot role that previously belonged to Edelman go to Isaiah Ford: 92 percent of his offensive snaps so far this season (207 of 225) came with him aligned in the slot, and he caught 17 of his 18 passes when playing inside the formation. Even though he is not offering the same experience as his superstar predecessor, Ford can be a quality option while at the bare minimum offering additional depth across the board.
Adding him also allows Jakobi Meyers ad Gunner Olszewski to focus on their more natural Z-receiver roles, as mentioned above.
Mason Kinsey, meanwhile, is a practice squad player who has yet to appear in an NFL game.
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