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What Does Julian Edelman’s Knee Injury Mean for the Patriots Offense?

The wide receiver has torn his ACL, but coach Bill Belichick has never let a star’s absence hold his team back

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman tore the ACL in his right knee on a noncontact play in the first quarter of New England’s preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Friday. Postgame reports indicated that the Patriots believed the wideout tore his ACL, and a Saturday MRI confirmed the severity of the injury.

The tear occurred when Edelman attempted to juke Lions safety Tavon Wilson Sr., but fell to the ground after his right knee appeared to buckle. He limped off the field after the play and was carted off after attempting to walk to the locker room.

Edelman has led the Patriots in targets, receptions, and receiving yards over the past four seasons. He has been Tom Brady’s most consistent target at 195 passes between the regular season and playoffs in 2016-17, with 119 receptions for 1,448 yards and four touchdowns over the course of the Patriots’ Super Bowl run. But even those numbers don’t fully explain how crucial Edelman is to the Patriots offense. Edelman saw 146 targets last season without a single interception, the highest in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

He was expected to once again be a key cog in a Patriots offense that figures to be dominant this season, though the team acquired Brandin Cooks in a trade with the Saints in the offseason—now a crucial addition if Edelman misses any time. Rookie Austin Carr, who showed flashes of talent in the preseason, should be in line to see more time with Edelman out for an extended period.

The Pats’ ceiling is undeniably lower without Edelman, but the team will still be the favorite in the AFC following his injury. They have been shapeshifters under Bill Belichick, and no single offensive injury this side of Brady will keep the offense from being effective. (If last year’s 3-1 stint during Brady’s suspension is any indication, the Pats might be Brady-proof too.) With Cooks, Carr, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Matthew Slater, and Malcolm Mitchell, the Pats have plenty of receivers. Adding in Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen at tight end and excellent pass-catching running backs in James White and Rex Burkhead, the Pats have a lot of pass catchers on their roster, though none with the skill set that Edelman brings.

Edelman is the second star receiver to suffer a scary-looking injury this week. On Monday, Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. sustained a scary low hit against the Browns, but Beckham managed to escape with just a high ankle sprain.

This post was updated after publication with more information about the nature of Edelman’s injury.