FOXBORO — The Patriots had a looming glut at their receiver spot, but they cleared it up well before they had to.
According to ESPN's Field Yates, the Patriots have placed Josh Gordon on injured reserve. Gordon was listed as a non-participant on Wednesday's injury report due to knee and ankle issues.
The team has used one of its return-from-IR designations — every team in the league gets two — on N'Keal Harry when they brought the rookie first-rounder back to practice last week. Bill Belichick could, in theory, use the second return-from-IR designation on Gordon, but the expectation is that left tackle Isaiah Wynn will be the second player they bring back from IR.
How does this leave the Patriots depth chart at receiver?
Julian Edelman remains the team's top option. He'll now be joined by Harry, recently-acquired Mohamed Sanu, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski.
Sanu-for-Gordon is not a one-for-one swap, though that's how the timing of the moves makes it seem. Sanu provides depth across the receiving group for position coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, but he is a very different player than Gordon. Both have big frames for the position, but Sanu is primarily a slot receiver while Gordon — who played in the slot occasionally for the Patriots — has made his living on the outside.
Gordon being placed on IR now opens the door for Harry to make an immediate impact. It's a tall order for a player who missed all but one preseason game and most of training camp. (And even in the preseason game he was limited after suffering a leg injury.) But Harry and Gordon have similar physical skill sets and it would come as little surprise if Harry manned the "X" position in the Patriots offense that Gordon held when available.
Harry and Gordon actually had remarkably similar physical measurements before entering the league seven years apart, and Harry's frame and body control should allow him to run the same fade, slant and back-shoulder routes Gordon did.
Asking Harry to do everything Gordon has done is a lot to ask. Especially in a complicated offense with a demanding quarterback who has let it be known many times that veteran players are more likely to contribute than rookies in New England because of the communication it takes to keep things running smoothly.
But Belichick made his choice. He could've — even after using a return-from-IR designation on Harry — opted to keep the rookie on IR and end his season. That would've left Gordon's role open for whenever he got healthy and kept the number of active receivers at a manageable level. Instead, the team will try to bring back the big-bodied bail-out option who's in his first year rather than try to get Gordon going again.
This move is also a vote of confidence for another rookie wideout. Jakobi Meyers was an undrafted player who ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash coming out of NC State, someone who only had a handful of years at the receiver position after going to the Wolfpack as a quarterback. But he impressed in training camp and has slowly worked his way into a more regular role by taking advantage of opportunities provided to him as others at his position have dealt with injury. He's caught 13 of 15 targets sent his way this season for 167 yards, and he's made an impression on his hard-to-impress quarterback.
"He’s done a great job taking advantage of his opportunity," Tom Brady said after Meyers caught all five targets sent his way Monday night. "I’ll keep throwing it to him. He does a good job of getting open. I’ll just keep trying to go to the open guy."
Meyers, McDaniels told reporters recently, is more of an interior option however. That means in Gordon's absence, Harry will likely be looked to to play a real role.
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