Super Bowl 53 saw the New England Patriots defensive line play an outstanding game, and a key role in limiting the Los Angeles Rams’ high-octane offense to a mere three points. Fast forward three months, and to a group that looks drastically different than the one that stifled the NFC champs on Super Sunday: gone are standout edge rusher Trey Flowers and rotational options Adrian Clayborn, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton.
To fill the void created by the offseason departures, the Patriots went down every available avenue. They used the trade market to get Michael Bennett on board, free agency to acquire Mike Pennel, and the draft to invest in a 24-year-old defensive edge that had been described as a ‘prototypical Patriot’ even before hearing his name called in the third round: Michigan’s Chase Winovich.
But how accurate is that label really? And what will the 77th overall pick in this year’s draft bring to the table for a Patriots defensive line in transition? Let’s take a look at the tape to find out.
Winovich may not be the most polished athlete, but his motor hardly ever runs cold. Will he win repetitions or snaps on a consistent basis? At least at this stage in his career, the answer is ‘not quite’ — but he sure will put up a fight even if not coming up with a sack or tackle. The following two plays show this, and illustrate how his effort is a key trait when it comes to Winovich’s game.
Lining up as a 7-technique edge, Winovich attacks Michigan State’s right tackle by disengaging with a violent right-hand slap. While the blocker in front of him recovers a bit, the defender quickly re-routes when he sees the quarterback break the pocket and chases after him to force a throw-away — a play reminiscent of one Kyle Van Noy made in the Super Bowl, when he chipped the tight end before zeroing in on quarterback Jared Goff and running him out of bounds.
Playing every snap hard certainly is one of Winovich’s hallmarks, and even when he goes down, he goes down swinging:
Takes the cheese on the motion and doesn’t notice the RB cutting back to the outside, but tremendous effort chasing for almost 80 yards pic.twitter.com/QdvRKgYnkO— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 10, 2019
Winovich bites on the fake end-around, which in turn makes him move too far towards the boundary to keep contain on a cutback run. While this is not the only issue Michigan’s defense has on the play, it certainly contributes to it turning into an 80-yard touchdown. To the defender’s credit, however, he does not mail it in on the play and chases after the ball carrier, albeit ultimately unsuccessfully.
Reading keys and reacting accordingly are the bread and butter of successfully playing defense at an NFL level, and Winovich has shown some adequate skills in this area while at Michigan. The following play, for example, sees him disrupting a zone-read run due to his quick reaction to the play:
Gets off the ball too and diagnoses the play too quickly for the pulling guard to make contact and trips up the QB pic.twitter.com/slwivqRUof— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 10, 2019
Lining up as a 5-technique edge, Winovich heads into the backfield at full speed because he knows what is coming: either the quarterback hands the football off, or he keeps it with a plan to advance it himself. The latter is what happens, but the Michigan defender disrupts the play immediately and successfully due to his quick reaction — one that also allows him to evade Penn State’s pulling guard on his upfield rush.
Winovich’s play recognition skills also helped him on the following play:
This is one of my favorite plays from Winovich. Notices the double pass before anyone else, chases down the QB and ends up making the tackle. Really impressive awareness, IQ and hustle pic.twitter.com/61Fe12mS6e— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 10, 2019
Originally attacking the left tackle’s inside shoulder, Winovich recognizes the double pass almost immediately and quickly reverses course. While he is unable to prevent the completion and first down, his reaction allows him to chase after the quarterback/pass catcher to make the tackle down the field. Another good example of his high football IQ, and also of the hustle with which he plays defense.
The following play is a bit different, but not any less impressive:
Do your job moment here. Winovich’s responsibility is the QB, so he stays home, keeps his eyes on #2, and is rewarded with a fumble recovery on the botched option play pic.twitter.com/Zs9qkSZCI4— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 10, 2019
Winovich does not play the flashiest role on this zone-read, but he does take care of his assignment — with positive results: he reads the quarterback, and does not overcommit to the flat. This helps him jump towards the loose football after the botched hand-off, and ultimately plays a role in Michigan’s recovery. And while plays like this one may not get Winovich a mention on the highlight reel, they are exemplary of a defender that knows how to do his job on any given play.
Winovich has been a disruptive edge defender at Michigan in large part because of his sound technique. His team’s first game of the 2018 season — on the road against twelfth-ranked Notre Dame — features numerous instances of him winning his matchups because of it. Let’s take a look at two of them.
Primarily wins on the edge primarily due to technically sound hands and his ability to minimize surface area. Both on display here. pic.twitter.com/Qjlj77BYAz— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 9, 2019
Lining up as a 5-technique end on the defensive left, Winovich patiently attacks the offensive tackle across the line of scrimmage before dipping down to minimize the attack area for his opponent. Simultaneously, he places his active hands perfectly to high-arm the blocker and get around his outside shoulder to force a quarterback pressure. This usage of technique allowed him to win against athletically superior players in college — and is also an encouraging foundation when looking at his NFL outlook.
In turn, Winovich knows how to take advantage of technique breakdowns in front of him:
This guy will feast against linemen who play with poor technique. Uses his head and hands to make the tackle think he’s going inside on the bull rush, then throws the blocker aside when he’s on his heels and forces a throwaway on 3rd down pic.twitter.com/3J42ZRRfGv— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 9, 2019
On this play, he originally starts by using a bull rush to the left tackle’s inside shoulder. When the blocker engages and gives a slight opening to move him off balance, however, Winovich applies a perfect counter: he uses a swim move to get to the outside, which had opened up due to the blocker’s initial reaction to the bull rush. As a result, the defender forces a throwaway on third down.
One of Winovich’s underrated skills is his versatility. Not only does he line up on both the left and the right edge, he also has experience attacking interior linemen:
Showing his versatility rushing inside on this play (should also note Chase is comfortable rushing from either edge). Jolts the RG with a strong punch and walks him back a bit, but the ball gets out too quickly for him to finish pic.twitter.com/dtl9Zvvmn3— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 10, 2019
Winovich opens up with a good initial push and forces Penn State’s right guard back a bit. However, the football gets out to quickly for the pass rush to have an impact on the play. Nevertheless, the play serves as an example that Winovich is more than a one-trick pony: he can be used in various roles — something that made Trey Flowers as effective a player as he was in New England — and might have a future as a sub-interior rusher in his cards as well.
While Winovich’s overall athleticism is nothing to write home about, he showcases his playing strength on a regular basis:
Could be wrong, but I feel like Winovich’s power isn’t talked about enough. He’s a legitimately strong dude with heavy and active hands. Lots of plays where he just ragdolls linemen pic.twitter.com/jQkqH6wK7Y— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 9, 2019
Combined with his high energy and sound hand usage, Winovich’s power allowed him to regularly take advantage of offensive linemen playing with a sloppy technique in college. While this will be increasingly hard to do at the next level, it still is a good thing to see — and a foundational element to further build upon.
Room for improvement
As is the case with every rookie, there is still substantial room for growth in Winovich’s game. When it comes to the former Wolverine, this has mostly to do with his athleticism: he’s neither the fastest nor the quickest nor does he possess elite bend around the edge — if he did, he probably would not have been available in the third round of last month’s draft.
Winovich lacks great bend and explosiveness, but he’s a problem when he times up the snap. Quickly closes the space between him and the LT and forces the QB to step up. With more hip flexibility he might’ve been able to flatten earlier for a sack, but still a disruption pic.twitter.com/uZOqCRw5ma— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 9, 2019
This play from last season illustrates some of Winovich’s short-comings in terms of bend. While he times the snap well and gets around the left tackle in a hurry, he lacks the flexibility in his hips to close in on the quarterback. While he still impacts the play — sacks are not everything when it comes to rushing the passer — Winovich could have registered a takedown had he been able to turn the corner just a bit quicker.
Winovich‘s strength and hand placement make him a damn good run defender, but he’ll end up on the ground at times against down blocks. Doesn’t happen very often, but enough to at least make a note of pic.twitter.com/XtfwTlZdYa— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) May 9, 2019
Winovich is a stout edge-setter in the running game due to his overall strength and hand technique, but he is a bit inconsistent against down blocks and ends on the ground from time to time against them. This is certainly something that can be eliminated with experience and the right coaching, but at this point it is something that comes up on his film every now and then.
Overall, however, Winovich is a very intriguing prospect due to his mix of intelligence, technical prowess, and motor. He won’t wow you athletically, but he knows how to do his job and carry out his assignments. The label of ‘prototypical Patriot’ is therefore an understandable one. Now all he needs to do is live up to it.