The Patriots lose a promising young defensive end to an injury

Earlier yesterday morning ESPN’s Mike Reiss and Field Yates confirmed that Derek Rivers had suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice. Rivers went down clenching his knee during a kickoff coverage drill in a joint practice with the Houston Texans on Wednesday.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported earlier that initial MRI results have shown that Rivers has suffered a torn ACL and a sprained LCL. Derek Rivers reportedly intends to get a second opinion to confirm if surgery is needed.

Derek Rivers is the Patriots’ highest pick from this year’s draft, being selected 83rd overall in the third round from Youngstown State. He finished his collegiate career with 120 tackles and 37.5 sacks in his four year tenure. The Patriots brought him on board to be a young addition to an aging defensive end corp. The group has been given the task of stepping up in the wake of Rob Ninkovich’s retirement.

Next man up

Luckily the Patriots have multiple options to consider in the weeks before the regular season kicks off. With the loss of Rivers, there are multiple ways that Coach Belichick and company can find a replacement.

Kony Ealy is presumed to be the starter at defensive end, parallel to Trey Flowers. However, Kony struggled in his first game as a Patriot last Thursday against the Jaguars. More depth will likely be needed on Kony’s side to ease the pressure for him to perform. The Patriots could easily inquire within the roster for a defensive end role and move Geneo Grissom up to the number two slot in the depth chart. Ex-edge rushers Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, and Harvey Langi could also see some playing time filling in the role where needed.

Beyond Gillette

The Patriots could always look for a direct replacement outside of the team as well. Talented veteran defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Mario Williams are currently both available on the free agent market. Coach Belichick has seen plenty of both of these players in the past and knows how well they can perform. Dwight Freeney, for example, might be one of the league’s elders at age 37, but he can still exhibit his explosiveness and some of his speed on command. For a younger player, the Patriots could look for a trade. However, it would be more useful to have some veteran talent for the season and continue developing Derek Rivers starting in the spring.

Whoever might replace Derek Rivers this season, it’s always next man up in the NFL.


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