With Rob Gronkowski and A.B. off the table, Patriots need recent first-round picks to help save the offense

The Patriots offense is in the midst of something bordering on an identity crisis. 2019 has proven to be the year of the defense in Foxborough as Bill Belichick's unit has been toeing the line of historic, allowing a league-low 10.8 points a game, the fewest total yards and getting the most takeaways in the NFL through the first eleven weeks. When it comes to putting up points, they haven't been as lights out as they've been in years past with Tom Brady under center and he's well aware of it. 

"The strength of our team is our defense and our special teams," Brady told WEEI's The Greg Hill Show on Monday, following a win against Philadelphia where he didn't throw a touchdown for the second time this season. "On offense we just have to take advantage when we get opportunities and understand where our strengths lie and try and play to them -- not giving any short fields, not turning the ball over and try and take advantage when we get into the red area to score touchdowns. That is kind of where our offense is. That is kind of where our team is."

While that lack of offensive firepower might be the reality for the Pats right now, it'll need to improve in order for them to ultimately contend for a record seventh Super Bowl title in franchise history. Sure, you could point to last year's 13-3 win in Super Bowl LIII as evidence to say New England could lean on the defense to a title, but you'd be forgetting the 37 points needed to fend off the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime of the AFC Championship Game. At some point, the offense is going to need to win a game or two. 

Unfortunately for Brady and the Pats, it doesn't appear like reinforcements are on the way from outside of the organization. 

Tight end Rob Gronkowski has shown no signs of coming out of retirement this season and even has a beach party scheduled in the days leading up to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Given all that, it doesn't appear like he'll be putting down the red solo cup for a helmet anytime soon. The other play-maker that was thought to maybe be an option was Antonio Brown and, while he apologized to owner Robert Kraft earlier this week, there's reportedly no shot that a reunion in Foxborough happens

To paraphrase a line for former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino -- Rob Gronkowski isn't walking through that door and neither is Randy Moss, Wes Welker or Antonio Brown. 

So, what now? 

For the Patriots offense to find it's level at this point in the season, they'll need their recent first-round picks from the last two drafts to start living up to that top-tier billing. In 2018, the Pats double-dipped in the first round with two Georgia Bulldogs in left tackle Isaiah Wynn (taken No. 23 overall) and running back Sony Michel (No. 31). This past spring, they selected Arizona State receiver N'Keal Harry with the last pick in the first round. 

A starting left tackle, running back and receiver should be pillars to any offense in the NFL especially when you have a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback under center, but it hasn't been the case to this point in New England. 

Injuries have derailed Wynn's start in the NFL as a torn Achilles tendon erased his rookie season and a Week 2 toe injury had him on injured reserve up until this week. In his place Marshall Newhouse has started at blindside tackle and the entire unit has been playing subpar. Harry has also been bit by the injury bug, as he made his NFL debut just last week. As for Michel, the production just hasn't been there in 2019. Out of the 12 running backs with at least 150 carries this season, Michel's 3.3 yards per carry ranks eleventh on that list. His skills as a pass catch also haven't increased much from his rookie season, leaving the offense rather predictable when he lines up in the backfield with Brady. 

With those first-rounders either not on the field or not producing, coupled with the loss of Gronkowski, Brown, Josh Gordon, starting center David Andrews and fullback James Develin along the way, the complementary pieces around Brady haven't been, well, complimentary. According to Next Gen Stats, Brady has just 2.65 seconds to throw the football, which ranks in the bottom third in the league among quarterbacks. Because of that, Pro Football Focus has Brady with a 48.5 passer rating when pressured this year. 

There is hope, however, that these youngsters can start to help turn the tides of the offense now that they're healthy. First and foremost, it starts with Wynn, who did show some promise to start the year in pass protection. In his 82 snaps before being placed on IR, he gave up just one quarterback hit on 45 pass-blocking snaps, per PFF. He was also praised for his run-blocking ability coming into the league, which could, in turn, help his college and pro teammate Sony Michel. 

As for Michel, he has shown the ability to come on strong late in the season, notching a 4.73 yards per carry average to go along with 336 rushing yards and six touchdowns through three playoff games a year ago. The loss of Develin will continue to hurt the running game, but the return of Wynn does provide a glimmer of hope for a more stable rushing attack.  

With Harry, it's admittedly unfair to ask him to be the next big-play receiver for the Patriots right out of the gate, but that's currently the position the offense is in. He has the physical tools that could translate into him adopting some of the routes left by not only Gordon, but potentially some from Gronkowski as well. As it relates to Gronk, I'm thinking about the kind of seam routes up the middle of the field that almost routinely opened things up for Julian Edelman underneath. If Harry can even pose the threat of converting those plays or stretching the defense from the outside, dominoes should begin to fall in a positive direction for this offense. 

Again, it may be a bit unfair to cast the weight of the offense on a trio of second and first -ear players, but, if the Patriots want another Lombardi in Robert Kraft's trophy case by the end of this year, they may have left themselves no other choice. 

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