As you’ve no doubt heard, New England Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski was suspended by the league for his illegal hit on Buffalo Bills’ cornerback Tre’Davious White, thus leaving a 6’6”, 265 lb. gap in the Patriots’ offense. In addition, even though wide receiver Chris Hogan returned to practice this week, it is unclear if he will be active for the game. That leaves the Patriots with Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister at tight end with Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett, and Bernard Reedy at wide receiver. So which one of these players will benefit the most from Gronkowski’s absence?
Backup tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister will be tasked with filling in for him against the Miami Dolphins this Monday night, but neither will be able to replace Gronkowski’s production. Allen, while a fine blocker, has produced very little in the passing game, while Hollister has been mostly limited to special teams. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ wide receiver Bernard Reedy was just promoted from the practice squad last week after signing with the team in late November, so it is very unlikely that he will see significant snaps on offense; the main reason he was brought in was likely to spell Danny Amendola on punt return duty. So that leaves just the three receivers. Brandin Cooks burned the Dolphins for 83 yards and a touchdown on six catches two weeks ago, so it is extremely likely that their coaching staff has prioritized shutting him down. This task will also be made easier by the absence of Gronkowski, as the Dolphins can dedicate a safety to double Cooks on every play if they so desire. In addition, with Gronk out, Amendola becomes Tom Brady’s de facto number two option. The Dolphins’ no doubt realize this, so they will also try to take him away. That leaves one Phillip Dorsett to help fill the void left by the hulking tight end.
Now, I’m not saying that Dorsett is as good as Gronkowski or that he’ll even pass one hundred yards on Monday, but it’s about time he gets involved with the offense. While the Patriots will no doubt rely on their running backs on the ground and in the passing game, it is extremely unlikely that their receivers will tally just the four catches they did last week. With Cooks drawing the safety deep and with Amendola occupying a linebacker and/or the nickel corner underneath, Dorsett may be able to fly under the radar and make a few big plays, as he did on the Patriots’ opening drive last week. In addition, he was wide open on the play that resulted in a verbal scuffle between quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels last week, so it’s not as if he’s not getting separation. The issue has been that he has been Brady’s fourth read at best on most plays, behind Gronkowski, Cooks, and Amendola. But with Gronkowski out of the picture and with the Dolphins likely focusing on Cooks, the third-year wide receiver could finally find his moment to shine.
Of course, all of that being said, no one really knows how the Patriots will spread the ball around on Monday night. But I do know this: when Brady’s in trouble, he starts feeding his favorite targets; usually either Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman. With neither of those two playing on Monday, he will have to get other guys involved if the Patriots want to win the game. So, despite not yet fully trusting Dorsett, Tom will likely be forced to throw his way, whether he wants to or not. It will be up to Dorsett to capitalize on the opportunity and carve out a larger role for himself as the playoffs loom.