Which Patriots will benefit in training camp with Julian Edelman injured?

Phil Perry
NBC Sports Boston

The news of Julian Edelman's thumb injury wasn't more than an hour old before the pig was hogtied and the lipstick uncapped.

This . . . might . . . actually . . . be a good thing for the Patriots

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Before we get to some of the tangible benefits of Edelman's few weeks out, it's important to highlight the following: It's never a good thing to have your most important offensive weapon miss time. For any team. For any reason. And make no mistake, Edelman will be Tom Brady's top option on a down-to-down basis when healthy. 

The receiver is into his 33-year-old season, and the previous 10 have not been easy on his body. But he's coming off the performance of his life in Super Bowl LIII, which earned him the game's MVP honors and a new level of celebrity, and he's now almost two full years removed from the ACL injury that robbed him of his 2017. 

On an offense that will be without Rob Gronkowski, that still does not have Josh Gordon at its disposal, that will rely upon rookie first-round pick N'Keal Harry in the passing game, and that has questions at left tackle, Edelman - along with James White -- is one of the few sure things upon whom Brady will rely in the passing game in 2019. 

That Edelman won't be available for a few weeks in camp matters. It's a competitive time of year that is structured in such a way that the entire team can build on the previous day's practices and meetings. Not having the offensive unit's No. 1 receiver and longest-tenured player outside of Brady will likely hinder their growth in some ways during this critical time. 

It shouldn't take long for Edelman and Brady to get on the same page whenever Edelman does come back, but it will come as no surprise if the offense looked very much out of sorts early in camp. That's the likely result of the Patriots defense being pretty damn good, Gronkowski and Edelman's absences, and the running game being hard to gauge since there's no tackling.

But there's another side to this coin. A positive side. Time to doll-up this swine. 

MORE LOOKS FOR N'KEAL HARRY

The Patriots' first overall selection from this year's draft class was already running routes with Brady in minicamp, putting him in rarified air. It's not often Brady works regularly with NFL newbies in the receiving corps, but Brady's team has never selected a receiver in the first round before.

Harry will be given every opportunity to succeed. And not just because of his draft status. No Gronkowski and no Gordon means the team needs a down-the-field threat who can win contested passes. That should be Harry's game.

With Edelman out, even though Harry and Edelman are vastly different players, the rook should be further up Brady's list of go-to targets this summer. That could help accelerate Harry's transition. 

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR BERRIOS, HARRIS, OTHERS

The Patriots very clearly were after slot receiver help this offseason. Adam Humphries detailed his interactions with the team during free agency before choosing the Titans. Cole Beasley went public with New England's interest after he signed with the Bills. Both were near the top of the list of available experienced slots.

Why would Bill Belichick target that spot? Freeing Edelman from middle-of-the-field duties might allow the Patriots to take advantage of his versatility while also keeping him out of the most dangerous area of the field on an every-down basis and thereby prolonging his career. The Patriots didn't land a true slot to take over that gig, but they did add pieces who could help fill in.

Braxton Berrios didn't play at all as a rookie, but put together an impressive spring and could be the latest relative unknown to rack up numbers at a position that has always produced with Josh McDaniels coordinating the attack and Brady throwing the passes. Maurice Harris is an inside/out option who isn't built out of the traditional Patriots-slot mold but could take advantage of the reps voided in Edelman's absence. Undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Ryan Davis - a big slot and a shiftier type, respectively - could also take advantage of the opportunity that just opened. Phillip Dorsett may see more targets as well, though the presumption was he would've been the No. 3 receiver on the field with Edelman and Harry even before Edelman's injury. 

It's the player who gets that third receiver spot in 11-personnel looks who stands to benefit now.

MORE PASSES TO GO AROUND AT TIGHT END

It looks like the Patriots will have to drastically alter their approach at tight end when it comes to the passing game. For the first time in a long time, one of their best options won't be found at that position.

Matt LaCosse caught a career-high 24 passes for the Broncos last season and could be the No. 1 option when the Patriots take to the air. Ryan Izzo has a shot at a role as a blocking tight end. Stephen Anderson is a "move" option who could augment what the Patriots have at receiver. Ben Watson will be available during camp, but he's suspended the first four weeks of the season and could at times find himself taking a back seat this summer in order for McDaniels and Belichick to figure out what they have.

No Edelman for a few weeks could mean a few extra middle-of-the-field targets for players like LaCosse and Izzo, which could be crucial for them as they try to prove they can be a reliable set of hands as safety outlets. 

A BIT OF A BREATHER FOR BRADY'S TOP TARGET

Training camp is one of those things that veterans almost universally loathe.

It's what sends some to retirement. It's exhausting. It's monotonous. It's the last thing they want to be doing in many cases.

By missing the first few weeks of camp, Edelman saves himself some of the physical grind that others annually dread. If that allows him to have a little more in the way of reserves come mid-season, then the hit the Patriots offense will take in August (and maybe even into September) might still be worth it.

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Which Patriots will benefit in training camp with Julian Edelman injured? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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