The New England Patriots’ defensive line lost some considerable talent this offseason: Trey Flowers left the club via free agency to join the Detroit Lions on a lucrative deal, while Adrian Clayborn was released in a cost-cutting move. Together, the two created 13.0 sacks in 2018 as well as 94 additional quarterback pressures — all while being on the field for 72.9% and 33.5% of New England’s defensive snaps, respectively.
Needless to say that the Patriots have a big hole to fill, and they tried their best to add talent in the wake of the departures. First, Michael Bennett was acquired via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles; a few weeks later, Chase Winovich was drafted by the club in the third round. Both are expected to see considerable playing time in 2019, but the defensive edge who might be under the most pressure to perform is still Deatrich Wise Jr.
A fourth-round pick by New England in 2017, Wise Jr. developed into a solid rotational option along the edge over his first two years in the NFL. Already a regular contributor during his rookie season, the Arkansas product was the Patriots’ number two option alongside Flowers in terms of playing time last year: Wise Jr. was on the field for 462 of the defense’s 1,231 combined snaps (37.5%) over the course of the regular season and playoffs.
When on the field, the 24-year-old was generally solid. Ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 77th best edge defender in the NFL last year — his 60.7 score classified him as ‘average’ — Wise Jr. registered 4.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits and 5 hurries last season, while taking a significant step forward as a run defender. Seeing his development in 2018, it was no surprise that PFF actually named him New England’s X-factor heading into the new season:
Deatrich Wise Jr. is set to lead the Patriots’ edge group in Year 3 despite recording just 80 career pressures over two seasons, winning just 12.1% and 13.3% of his pass rushes, respectively. The tools are there, though, as he generated pressure on 16.7% of his pass-rush attempts while winning 18.0% of his pass rushes during his final season at Arkansas back in 2016.
Classifying Wise Jr. as an X-factor for the world champions is reasonable given his role the past two years in combination with the Patriots’ personnel changes over the course of the offseason. The question will be whether or not he can live up to the expectations, but now certainly is the time to show that he can function in a bigger role as one of the most experienced members of New England’s edge group (and the entire defensive line).
Ultimately, the Patriots’ pass rush and front-line play as a whole would benefit from Wise Jr’s development continuing to progress like it did over seasons one and two. While he doesn’t need to be the next Trey Flowers, consistency and playing technically sound and smart football go a long way to finding success in New England’s defense — one that usually takes a rotational approach to the defensive edge positions.
Wise Jr’s role in this rotation is projected to grow significantly in 2019, and if the past is any indication he should be up to the task as both a pass rusher and an edge-setter in the running game. Now is the time to find out if this this holds true, and the third-year man can indeed take the next step to becoming a starting-caliber defender.