The New England Patriots and fantasy football fans (especially in PPR) shed a tear Saturday when the Patriots (surprisingly) confirmed that star WR Julian Edelman suffered a torn ACL and is done for the year. The dreaded ACL tear has victimized over 20 NFL players so far this preseason. The ACL is one of the major four ligaments of the knee; it lies deep within the knee, essentially crisscrossed with the PCL (posterior cruciate ligament). Think of the ACL and PCL as helping to prevent the knee from falling too much forward (ACL) and backward (PCL). The other two ligaments, the MCL and LCL for Edelman were intact as far as we know based on the information released, and these help to prevent the knee from collapsing or misaligning too much inward (MCL) or outward (LCL).
Any non-contact injury to the knee, where the knee looks like it just buckles, is concerning for an ACL injury. The ACL’s main purpose is to stabilize and prevent the leg from falling forward. Additionally the ACL protects the knee against varus and valgus stress when the knee is in full extension. Most people can have a completely normal functioning life without repairing an ACL tear, but there will be limitations, and most professional athletes struggle due to the knee instability and often decide to have the ACL reconstructed/rebuilt. However, there have been several famous athletes that have been very successful without a healthy ACL, including John Elway, Hines Ward, and Philip Rivers, just to name a few.
The surgery itself is very common surgery, as more than 100,000 ACL reconstructions are performed each year. Rushing to surgery too quickly after the injury can result in something called arthrofibrosis, which is when excessive scar tissues develops leading to restricted ROM, and often why many surgeons will wait sometimes up to a couple of weeks for the swelling and inflammation to calm down before operating. The typical return-to-play (RTP) for an ACL tear after surgery is about 9-11 months; although some athletes do manage to return as quickly as 6 months, that is usually not recommended.
So how does this impact the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots offensively? Well, we know that Edelman was used as an extension of the running game, like a swiss-army-knife and was a matchup nightmare. He was fantastic last year after Gronk went down, with 78 catches for 1,090 yards with 3 TDs in the final 11 games (including the playoffs). Edelman easily led the Patriots in 3rd down catches last year with 28 (Brady targeted him 38 times on 3rd down, which was more than Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell combined) and the NFL in yards with 431 in the regular season. With both Gronk and Edelman healthy and working the middle of the field together, defenses had their hands full, even in the Lions game Edelman he was doing some serious damage before going down with the injury. Edelman has 436 receptions since 2013, which is actually 187 more than any other Patriots player over that time span; Gronkowski was second with 249.
The ultimate question that all fantasy owners will want to know is who will be the one to gain from Edelman’s injury, as he was targeted 160 times in 2016. Unfortunately, the answer to that just isn’t that simple. The hoodie, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, will find ways to get all of the various offensive pieces involved. Newly acquired WR Brandin Cooks is one name that comes to mind, as Brady will likely target him likely similar to the way he did when Randy Moss was in town. Chris Hogan, who was fantastic on Friday night destroying Detroit’s secondary to the tune of 4-70-2, will also benefit from the injury, but make note that he only spent about 27% of his time in the slot last year – the place where Julian Edelman thrived. Gronkowski, new TE Dwayne Allen, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and New England’s pass-catching RBs (Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead) will also see an increase in targets. So yes, there are a lot of mouths to feed in New England.
Then there is undrafted receiver Austin Carr and 2016 7th-round pick Devin Lucien who are also fighting for a roster spot. Carr made a sensational catch in the endzone earlier this preseason and instantly reminded people of Edelman with his gritty ways. Unfortunately, I think the beneficiary will ultimately depend on the game, the gameplan and the ideal matchup that day. Some games Cooks might be lightening the scoreboard on fire, other games it will be Hogan, and then some games the RBs will have their days, like Dion Lewis and James White did many times last year. The scary thing about the Patriots is that they can beat you so many different ways, which is why many fantasy owners avoid the Patriots players altogether.
Without Edelman, the Patriots will likely use Hogan and Amendola in combination routes, or Cooks and Hogan in over-under combos, Gronk will be running up the seam and the running backs will be sneaking out of the backfield after pass protection to get open in the flat. The clear answer is simply I don’t know.
Injury Affects: Tom Brady, Chris Hogan, Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
Current draft position: 5th round, 12th pick. WR28
Draft instead (especially in PPR): Jarvis Landry, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Crabtree, Eric Decker, Pierre Garcon, Willie Snead, Stefon Diggs