Derek Rivers’ first NFL season might already be over.
The New England Patriots rookie defensive end suffered a knee injury Wednesday during a joint practice with the Houston Texans, and the team fears that injury is season-ending, ESPN’s Mike Reiss and Field Yates reported Friday, citing league sources.
Rivers, the Patriots’ top pick (83rd overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft, played 41 snaps in last Thursday’s preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars and had shown noticeable improvement on the practice field of late.
Losing the Youngstown State product would be another blow to a Patriots defensive end group that saw Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leave in free agency this offseason and Rob Ninkovich announce his retirement. Fellow rookie D-end Deatrich Wise also remains sidelined after suffering a head injury against the Jaguars, and recently signed undrafted free agent Keionta Davis has yet to suit up.
Trey Flowers, one of the breakout stars of the 2016 season, is a lock to start at one defensive end spot. For the other, the Patriots’ options are dwindling.
Kony Ealy, Geneo Grissom and roster long shot Caleb Kidder are New England’s only healthy defensive ends. Linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy and undrafted free agent Harvey Langi also have the ability to play on the edge, but Hightower currently is on the physically unable to perform list, and McClellin has been sidelined since last week with an undisclosed injury.
The Patriots could look to sign a veteran defensive end to bolster their lean depth chart. The list of available free agents at the position includes Dwight Freeney, Mario Williams and Jared Odrick. A trade for one also is a possibility.
UPDATE (11:40 a.m. ET): Rivers’ diagnosis was a torn ACL and sprained LCL, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
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