After already making two moves last week, the New England Patriots sat out the league’s trade deadline earlier this week and instead focused their attention on preparing for the upcoming game against the Baltimore Ravens, and on making some other personnel moves. One of the transactions, although comparatively minor in nature just yet, was designating Isaiah Wynn as the second and final player to return off injured reserve.
Wynn, of course, started the Patriots’ first two games of the season at left tackle before hurting his toe and getting placed on IR. Exactly six weeks and one day later, the former first-round draft pick was back on the practice fields with his teammates. While he cannot be officially activated to the 53-man roster until Week 12, when New England hosts the Dallas Cowboys, the 23-year-old being back on the field is tremendous news for the team.
There are two pretty obvious reasons for why that is the case:
1.) Isaiah Wynn was picked 23rd overall to be a starting tackle for the Patriots.
2.) New England’s offensive line has had its fair share of issues ever since his injury.
The first point is pretty straight forward. When the Patriots drafted Wynn, they had just lost long-time starting left tackle Nate Solder via free agency and were in need of a replacement. While the rookie eventually did not become that right away — trade acquisition Trent Brown earned the role early in the process, and Wynn tore his Achilles tendon in preseason — the writing was on the wall for him to eventually take over.
On opening day this season, Wynn did just that and started at left tackle. Despite his lack of experience after not having played in a regular season or playoff game yet because of his Achilles injury, the second-year man looked very good: his technique was tremendous, his movements were quickly and precise, and his power was obvious both in pass protection and run blocking. In short, he looked like a franchise left tackle is supposed to look.
Then came Week 2’s game agains the Miami Dolphins. Just 12 snaps in, Wynn suffered what later turned out to be turf toe and had to leave the game not to return. The Patriots, who entered the game without starting right tackle Marcus Cannon as well, were forced to shuffle their offensive line and ended up with recently signed Marshall Newhouse — who had started the contest in place of Cannon — filling Wynn’s spot protecting Tom Brady’s blindside.
Newhouse has held onto the starting spot ever since, and six games in can best be described as serviceable at times but certainly inconsistent and a downgrade from Wynn: since taking over for the injured Georgia product, the 31-year-old has surrendered a team-high 21 quarterback pressures (6.0 sacks, 8 hits, 7 hurries) but also helped the offensive line achieve some solid rankings according to both Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus.
The Patriots’ line has been ranked as the ninth best in the NFL through eight weeks by PFF, and is 11th in pass protection according to Football Outsider’s metrics (5.7% adjusted sack rate) as well as 18th when it comes to run blocking (4.12 adjusted line yards). The numbers certainly do not stand out, but Newhouse did enough to help the line stay afloat despite having to spend essentially seven of eight games without one of its most important pieces.
That being said, it is not hard to see Wynn being an upgrade once he eventually returns to action. Just take a look at the two players’ PFF ratings: Newhouse has a 61.4 pass blocking grade and a 49.3 run blocking grade, while Wynn — albeit in considerably fewer snaps — achieved a 77.4 as a pass protector and a 65.9 in the running game. The differences may not seem like a lot, and the ratings themselves are not the one perfect tool of evaluation, but it shows how the left tackle spot can be upgraded with Wynn in the lineup.
The same goes for the offensive line as a whole: having a left tackle that can pass protect and run block on an island if need be, and that does not suffer from the ups and downs that regularly plague Newhouse, should help from a performance perspective and when it comes to the communication up front. After all, Wynn has shown that he can work well alongside left guard Joe Thuney and the rest of the line when it comes to seeing the game through one set of eyes — something line coach Dante Scarnecchia regularly preaches.
The veteran assistant generally seemed to look forward to having Wynn back, whenever his on-field return actually takes place: “I think that we would all like to see him out there, he would like to see himself back out there, and I think he’s a really good football player, but I don’t know when that’s going to be. I honestly can’t tell you when it’s going to be. I know he’s working hard to get himself out there. I like him, he’s a good player, but he has to get back out there and he has to stay out there too, that’s important.”
Staying out there has certainly been an issue through the early portions of Wynn’s pro career. If he can manage to do just that and play up to the level he showed during his first one-and-a-half games in a Patriots uniform, however, the line and by extension the entire offense should, no, will benefit.