With Vince Wilfork Out for the Season, New England Patriots Depth Will be Tested

vince-wilfork-new-england-patriotsThe New England Patriots fourth consecutive win to start the season didn’t come without setbacks. When all was said and done Tom Brady and Co. finished off the Atlanta Falcons 30-23 in the Georgia Dome on Sunday Night Football. 

Playing without the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, this was a gutty performance from the defending AFC East Champions. It also ended with yet another one of their key core players out with a significant injury.

Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork tore his right Achilles, per ESPN.

He was injured on the Falcons first drive of the game in what was considered an ankle injury. Reports early Monday morning indicate that the injury is much more serious and that the 31-year old defensive tackle will likely miss the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles. Considering the rehab time for players that don’t exactly have as much weight to carry (say Michael Crabtree), there is little hope that Wilfork will be able to return before training camp next summer.

This is a huge blow.

He’s been an anchor along their defensive line since being selected with the 21st overall pick in 2004, starting 131 games and only missing six outings during that span. Understanding full well that Wilfork hasn’t missed much action in his time with the Patriots, their organization ignored perceived depth issues along the interior of the offensive line.

The only backup interior linemen on New England’s 53-man roster are Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, who have combined for exactly zero NFL starts and five weeks of pro action. Veteran free-agent acquisition Tommy Kelly will have to step up in Wilfork’s stead. Even then, it would seem that the Patriots will be forced to go with a 3-4 scheme a vast majority of the time, which is a shift from their hybrid defensive front over the past few seasons.

The Patriots did let Kyle Love, who has some starting experience, go in the offseason. The veteran remains unsigned at this point after working out with the San Francisco 49ers earlier in September. Outside of that, there are limited options on the open market for the Patriots.

It’s a chance that contending teams take. Sacrificing depth at one position in order to make up for shortcomings at another position. While this might have come back to bite the Patriots in the butt, they have proven that their “next-man up” philosophy works.

Who will be that guy?

I would bank on Chris Jones, who was vastly underrated coming out of Bowling Green. The small-school product was waived by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier in September, but has a ton of talent. He can act as the pass rusher to Kelly’s run-stopping ability.

As it is, no one will replace Wilfork’s presence along that defensive line. And, that’s a major blow for the now 4-0 Patriots.

 

Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of eDraft Sports Radio (which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle every Friday. He’s also a former league-wide featured columnist at Bleacher Report.