Three seasons into his professional career, Derek Rivers has yet to make an impact on the New England Patriots’ defense. With injuries playing spoiler and twice forcing him to sit out an entire season, the team’s highest selection of the 2017 draft has struggled to consistently get on the field — a trend that started in his first training camp in the NFL, when the promising-looking third-round pick tore his ACL in mid-August.
Rivers was forced to spend his entire rookie season rehabbing from the knee injury and subsequent surgery, and was still slowed down because of it during the 2018 season as he told Pats Pulpit at last year’s Super Bowl. As a result and due to the Patriots’ depth ahead of him on the roster, the Youngstown State product appeared in just seven games for the eventual world champions and was on the field for only 97 combined snaps.
2019 did not go any better for Rivers. While the road was clear for him to take on a bigger role with edge defenders Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn both leaving New England during the offseason, another injury derailed his season: he saw considerable action with the starting defense during training camp and generally looked good during 1-on-1s and in team drills, but suffered another knee injury during the second preseason game.
On roster cutdown day, the Patriots therefore moved Rivers to season-ending injured reserve for the second time in three years. Now heading into the final year of his rookie contract, the 25-year-old is obviously in a do-or-die situation: if he fails to make an impact on one of the NFL’s best defenses over the course of spring and summer, his time in New England and by extension maybe even his career in the NFL might come to an end.
Rivers, however, is actively trying to reverse course as ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss pointed out over the weekend: while the majority of Patriots players are away from the team’s facilities and not expected to return until the start of the voluntary offseason workout program in mid-April, Rivers has reportedly “been a constant presence at the facility” to rehab behind the scenes and put himself in the best possible position to bounce back strong in 2020.
Considering that two of the Patriots’ top four edge defenders from a year ago are scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency in March — Kyle Van Noy and Shilique Calhoun — Rivers could get plenty of opportunities to prove his value to the team moving forward. After all, he projects to be a part of the mix at the outside linebacker/defensive end positions heading into the new season. His active approach could therefore pay dividends further down the line.