The New England Patriots can only bring back two of three players later in the season between James Develin, Isaiah Wynn, and N’Keal Harry.
It’s not a question that they have to answer today, but at some point in the future, the New England Patriots will be faced with an unenviable choice. They currently have three major offensive players on injured reserve in fullback James Develin, left tackle Isaiah Wynn, and wide receiver N’Keal Harry… and they can only bring two of those three back into action this season.
So who should it be?
It’s complicated, is the best and shortest answer at this early stage of the season.
There’s certainly a compelling argument to be made for all three players, and the best course of action may just be to wait and see what the most pressing needs are for the team come November. Obviously a lot can change over the grueling span of a 17-week football season, and the complexion of the Patriots’ roster could look very different two months from now than it even does today.
Harry was the first to go down after suffering an ankle injury during training camp that he re-aggravated during the preseason. His landing on IR was thought to be done intentionally so as to open back up a spot on the active roster for Demaryius Thomas, but then Thomas was traded to the Jets when the Patriots signed Antonio Brown.
Of course, now that Brown is no longer with the team, it begs the question of whether or not the Patriots’ first-round draft pick this year becomes the top priority to bring back later. Harry had an up-and-down camp with the Pats, and there are no guarantees that he’d make a major impact upon his return.
It’s also fair to suggest that Tom Brady will have developed better chemistry by that point in the season with the other receivers he’s had more opportunities to work with… guys like Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon obviously, but also up-and-coming players like Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry, and maybe even a tight end or two (it should be noted that Benjamin Watson returns to the fold next week).
Still, the Patriots didn’t draft their first wide receiver in the first round under Bill Belichick just to watch that guy ride the pine all year… right?
Left tackle Isaiah Wynn might seem like a more slam-dunk choice to bring back, on the surface at least. The Patriots’ offensive line has been hit hard this season by injuries and illness (Wynn, David Andrews, Marcus Cannon, Marshall Newhouse), so the team could presumably need some valuable reinforcements in the future should they suddenly become available.
Wynn, like Harry, was a first-round draft pick for the Pats – though he missed his entire rookie year in 2018 with an Achilles tear. New England eased him back into the regular rotation this offseason, and he actually looked pretty solid in a small sample size during the preseason and the first two games of the regular season.
Was that enough proof for the Patriots, though? New England has so far managed to keep Brady pretty safe behind a patchwork offensive line with many revolving pieces. Granted, they haven’t faced the best opposition this year, but it’s still impressive that TB12 has only been sacked three times over three games. If the line can improve in run-blocking, does it even make sense to rush Wynn back then from a reported turf toe injury?
The Patriots’ third significant option is fullback James Develin, the team’s most recent addition to injured reserve.
Despite the league’s diminishing reliance on the fullback position in modern offenses, Develin has made an impact on the New England offense during his seven previous years here. He’s wisely considered to be a major cog in the Patriots’ run game when its successful, and his loss certainly could negatively impact Sony Michel’s fortunes in 2019, among the other Patriots backs as well.
Right now, it seems like the team could most benefit from the potential returns of Develin and Wynn. Even though Develin wasn’t playing particularly well to start this season – and even though Wynn doesn’t have much overall NFL experience yet – both have enough upside as players to make Belichick want to roll the dice on them. Especially given the team’s noted struggles with running the ball so far this season, their return would help in that department a lot more than Harry’s would.