A young group of wide receivers usually means growing pains for most teams, but that should not be the case for the New England Patriots this Sunday. The Pats are visiting the Buffalo Bills, a team with a group of solid young talent, but not much quality depth. This lack of depth, combined with some key injuries to members of the Buffalo secondary, should be exposed.
Let’s start with “The Franchise,” free safety Jairus Byrd. Byrd sat out most of training camp and part of the preseason because he was unhappy with receiving the franchise tag instead of a long-term contract. Byrd’s pouting backfired, so now he needs time to get into football shape. A plantar fasciitis injury won’t help things. Reporters have said that Byrd is limited in practice, making his status 50/50 for Sunday’s tilt. If he doesn’t go, Bills’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will either have to turn to Aaron Williams or Jim Leonhard. Williams was converted from cornerback to safety during this last offseason, mostly because he was deemed as too slow to play cornerback. Leonhard was signed just a couple of days ago, though he is familiar with Pettine’s defense from their time together with the New York Jets. Whether Byrd plays or not, expect Tom Brady to test the Bills’ defense over the top, as it could be a weakness.
The other significant injury is to second-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore will miss 6-8 weeks with a broken left wrist. He was really impressive as a rookie cornerback last season, showing that he could handle opposing No. 1 wide receivers. Gilmore has legitimate shutdown potential, so his loss will be a big blow. What is even a bigger blow is the replacement for Gilmore. Nobody knows who it will be, though it should be either Ron Brooks or Justin Rogers. Brooks has potential as physical nickel cornerback, though he is slow and commits a lot of penalties. Rogers came on two seasons ago, but he took step back last season. His ceiling is also a nickel cornerback.
Kenbrell Thompkins is the biggest beneficiary to Gilmore’s injury. He will line up on the left side of the field, the spot that Gilmore was responsible for. Either way, Thompkins will likely draw coverage from a nickel cornerback forced to play outside. He should be a target monster in this game and likely the most valuable wide receiver for Brady.
Philip Alexander is a New England Patriots writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @steely0906, “like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.