The New England Patriots are bringing N’Keal Harry back off IR this week. When the time comes, they should use their second allotted pick on Isaiah Wynn.
Earlier this week, the New England Patriots officially selected N’Keal Harry as one of the two players from their injured reserve list that they get to bring back this season. Harry, the team’s first-round draft pick last April, was originally put on IR with a bad ankle less than one week before the season opener.
Per NFL rules, Harry was eligible to begin practicing with the team again this week – if they chose to allow him to do so. Once a player from IR gets back into practice, it automatically puts them on a timetable to then return to game action two weeks later… meaning Harry wouldn’t be eligible to play in a regular season game for the Pats until New England’s Week 9 trip to Baltimore on Sunday Night Football.
Since Harry was spotted at practice on Tuesday, that means Bill Belichick deemed him worthy of taking up one of the two return spots from injured reserve. It’s a smart decision, given the run of injuries that have taken a toll on the Patriots wide receiver depth chart this season through six weeks; Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Phillip Dorsett have all battled through injuries this year, in addition to Harry.
Harry’s return to the lineup – along with the addition of new tight ends Benjamin Watson and Eric Tomlinson – should immediately help fortify a thin Patriots offense that has been decimated by injuries.
There are two other significant options for New England (and for Bill Belichick specifically) to upgrade that side of the ball this season.
One option is to try and orchestrate a trade before the deadline on October 29 with another team or teams. The Patriots could offer either draft picks, financial compensation, extraneous players on their roster (Michael Bennett?), or some combination of those assets to a needy team in exchange for a veteran offensive lineman or a pass-catching playmaker.
The other option is to use that second IR return spot on another in-house player the Patriots feel like they really need back in the lineup to be successful.
These two options certainly aren’t mutually exclusive – New England could end up pursuing both paths, and they’d probably be a better team because of it. But specific to that second route, Belichick and the Patriots brass have an interesting decision on their hands if they want to proceed down that road.
Namely: who will they choose to bring back? They obviously have lots of good choices.
The Pats could bring back either one of their fullbacks – James Develin or Jakob Johnson, depending on who’s healthiest – to help out in the run game. Develin is definitely the more proven commodity, but his neck injury could also warrant stronger precaution.
They could try and bring back kicker Stephen Gostkowski at some point, assuming his left hip surgery isn’t season-ending like it was originally reported to be. Replacement kicker Mike Nugent has been serviceable since coming on board, but he’s also far from a guarantee to nail crucial kicks later in the season and then the playoffs if called upon.
There are a number of players from the Patriots defense currently on IR, but given the way the overall defensive unit has performed through the first six weeks of the season, it doesn’t really seem likely New England would spend that second choice on that side of the ball. Why mess with a good thing?
No, the most obvious choice for the Pats to bring back is on offense… and more specifically, it’s along the offensive line.
Left tackle Isaiah Wynn had a nice start to the season against Pittsburgh before leaving the Miami game in Week 2 with a turf toe injury. Wynn was placed on injured reserve two days after he sustained the injury, meaning he won’t be eligible to return to practice until after the Patriots host the Cleveland Browns in Week 8. He’d then be allowed to return to game action three weeks later against the Philadelphia Eagles, since the Pats have their bye in Week 10.
Wynn obviously doesn’t have a lot of experience at this point in his NFL career. He missed his entire rookie season last year after suffering a torn Achilles in the preseason, so he’s only played in one full regular season game from whistle to whistle.
Still, there’s a reason Belichick spent the team’s first first-round pick on him in 2018. He’s easily the most talented tackle the Patriots have on their roster this season, and his return would help stabilize and solidify a suspect offensive line that hasn’t regularly opened many holes for New England’s running backs.
Tom Brady has also already been sacked 10 times through six games this year; in the full 16-game regular season last year, Brady was sacked on just 21 instances. The pass protection clearly needs to improve, especially since New England still has to face a number of excellent pass-rushing teams this year, such as the Browns, Texans, Cowboys, and Eagles.
An offensive line that reads Wynn, Thuney, Karras, Mason, and Cannon from left-to-right on the back of the New England jerseys gives the Patriots their best chance as a team to keep Brady upright and allow for the running game to get going. In essence, that line configuration thus gives the Pats their best chance to win… and it all starts with Wynn.