Nearly three weeks after losing Rob Ninkovich to retirement, the New England Patriots likely have lost their top draft choice in Derek Rivers to injury. Reports have stated that Rivers has torn his ACL along with a sprained MCL, which is concerning for a team that currently lacks depth at the defensive end position. However, the Patriots will need to once again follow their next man up mindset as there are still some players who can fill the void Rivers will leave this season.
Luckily for the Patriots, there are still multiple players on the team’s defensive end depth chart that can contribute this season. The team traded for Kony Ealy during the off-season, who has shown flashes of great potential during his tenure with the Carolina Panthers. However, Ealy has yet to prove consistency on the defensive line which will need to change following Rivers’ injury. In wake of the injury, Ealy will likely be placed along with Trey Flowers this season, which can prove to be a dangerous tandem if Ealy improves his consistency. Ealy has yet to produce more than five sacks in a season during his three seasons in the league, which needs to improve for the Patriots to have a formidable pass rush.
Deatrich Wise Jr. was drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots and now has the opportunity to contribute following Rivers’ injury. Wise only eclipsed eight sacks last season at Arkansas, but showed an ability to power through offensive lines. Like Rivers, Wise also shows an ability to play both linebacker and defensive end; something that will prove to be valuable to a Patriots team that is in need of pass rushing depth. There will be an adjustment period for Wise to perform in his new role especially as a rookie, but has potential to be an important depth piece in the Patriots’ defense with extended playing time.
There is no guarantee Rivers would make a huge impact during his rookie season, but as a versatile defensive end who has the ability to play linebacker if needed, the Patriots may need to look elsewhere on the free agent market to add quality depth. Players like Dwight Freeney will likely be in the mix as like Rivers he has the ability to play as a pass rushing linebacker when needed. Currently on the roster, the Patriots haven’t plugged in another player to fill Ninkovich’s role on defense, but can still find other players on the current roster to add some pass rushing depth.
It is still unclear whether Rivers will need season-ending surgery, but with a torn ACL, there will be a long recovery period. Regardless, the Patriots will find a way to fill his role on the team through free agency or with players on the current roster. There was a lot of intrigue to see what Rivers was capable of this season, but it will only open up opportunities for others to contribute.
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