New England Patriots fans, do you want the good news or bad news first? I’ll decide for you.
The good news? The Patriots finally have a punt returner. They signed wide receiver Riley McCarron off the practice squad, and it would be surprising if he wasn’t returning punts until Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension is over.
And the bad? To call up McCarron, it took placing second-round pick Duke Dawson on injured reserve. The cornerback becomes the fifth 2018 draft pick to hit injured reserve this summer. Dawson can return to the active roster after Week 8. Offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn, wide receiver Braxton Berrios, linebacker Christian Sam and tight end Ryan Izzo’s seasons are over.
It was fairly easy to predict McCarron would hit the active roster Wednesday, when he was spotted on the game field with special teams coach Joe Judge, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and running backs Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill going over returns.
The Patriots took a calculated risk in waiving McCarron on Saturday. No team claimed him, so the Patriots stored him on their practice squad for four days before calling him up Thursday. He also serves as valuable wide receiver depth. The Patriots now have McCarron, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chad Hansen and Matthew Slater on their roster until Edelman returns.
There’s certainly reason to be down on the Patriots’ 2018 draft class, which currently resembles something out of a “Final Destination” movie, after a fifth member hit injured reserve. Only running back Sony Michel, who’s nursing a knee injury, linebacker Ja’Whaun Benltey, who was limited with an illness Wednesday, and cornerback Keion Crossen (fully healthy but hopefully keeping his head on a swivel) remain on the Patriots’ active roster. Quarterback Danny Etling is on the practice squad.
That being said, it’s not the worst thing for Dawson to miss eight weeks. That gives his injured hamstring time to heal, and it’s likely Dawson would have been slow to catch up after missing most of training camp and the preseason. He likely would have started the season behind Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones on the cornerback depth chart. It’s possible even Jason McCourty, JC Jackson and Crossen were above him on the depth chart, as well.
The Patriots definitely didn’t need seven cornerbacks on their roster, and Dawson now can serve as insurance in case of injury or poor play at cornerback. Dawson easily could have been a healthy scratch even after recovering.
Perhaps what’s most scary is the Patriots’ recent bad luck with draft picks. Defensive end Derek Rivers, a 2017 third-round pick, missed his rookie season with a torn ACL. Offensive tackle Antonio Garcia, another 2017 third-round pick, missed his rookie season with blood clots in his lungs and is off the roster. Cornerback Cyrus Jones, the Patriots’ top pick in 2016, is off the roster after tearing his ACL last August. Defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, a 2016 third-round pick, missed last season with a knee injury and is now on the practice squad. Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, a 2016 fourth-round pick, is a free agent after the Patriots cut him with lingering knee issues. And that’s just the past three drafts.
If the Patriots draft luck doesn’t turn around, then the Patriots could continue having trouble replenishing aging talent on their roster.
Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images