Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s second-year players.
Name: Chase Winovich
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: 50
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6-foot-3, 250 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Winovich’s experience in the NFL may be limited to one season with the Patriots, but he made the most out of it: appearing in all 17 possible games during his rookie campaign, he established himself as a core member of New England’s pass rushing rotation and special teams units. His early success as a pro is essentially a continuation of the final two years at the University of Michigan, when he established himself as a starter along the Wolverines’ defensive edge.
After seeing only limited playing time over his first three years in Ann Arbor — Winovich redshired in 2014 before being used rotationally the next two seasons and appearing in 19 contests with two starts — he broke out during his 2017 junior campaign. Over the two years that followed, he started all 26 games he appeared in and posted some impressive numbers: Winovich registered 13.0 sacks and 13 additional quarterback hits, and also forced a pair of fumbles while recovering three of them.
Along the way, he was named to the All-Big Ten team twice (second team in 2017, first team in 2018) and also earned second-team All-American honors during his fifth-year senior season. Winovich was able to accomplish all that due to his high motor and technical approach to the game — one that led to him getting selected 77th overall by the Patriots during the 2019 NFL draft.
What did his 2019 season look like? It did not take long for Winovich to make a positive impact on the Patriots after hearing his name called in the third round of the draft. Leading into the team’s preseason opener against the Detroit Lions, he had his best week of practice up until that point and followed it up with a 1.5-sack performance. Winovich ended preseason as New England’s sack leader with 2.5, and despite playing in just three of four exhibition games registered 11.5 combined quarterback pressures.
It was a sign of things to come, as the rookie earned a prominent role in the Patriots’ rotation along the defensive edge. Primarily an outside linebacker, Winovich appeared in all 17 of the Patriots’ combined games during the regular season and playoffs and was on the field for 293 of a possible 1,070 defensive snaps (27.4%) — effectively serving as the third pure edge option alongside Kyle Van Noy and John Simon. Like the two veterans, the youngster also played a pivotal role in New England’s pass rush.
Winovich was mostly used in passing situations as 234 of his 293 defensive snaps (79.9%) came in situations in which he was asked to attack the pocket on passing plays. And attack the pocket he did quite successfully: his 24.5 combined quarterback pressures — consisting of 5.5 sacks as well as seven hits and 12 hurries — ranked him fourth on the Patriots’ defense. While his abilities to rush the passer stood out, Winovich also looked serviceable in his limited opportunities as a run defender or in coverage.
On top of his defensive contribution, the Michigan product also carved out a role as a core special teamer. He played the fourth most kicking game snaps on the team 273 of 474 (57.6%) — and was used prominently on both return units as well as on kickoff and punt coverage squads. In the latter role, Winovich also scored the first touchdown of his professional career: in Week 6 against the New York Giants, he caught a blocked punt on the fly and returned it six yards for a score.
What is his projected role? Winovich was used primarily as an outside linebacker during his rookie season, and he is expected to reprise this role in Year Two. But while his alignment will likely remain the same, he is primed to take on a bigger role in the Patriots’ front seven this season: Winovich is projected to help fill the void created when fellow edge defender Kyle Van Noy as well as move option Jamie Collins both left the club in free agency.
What is his special teams value? While an increase in defensive playing time might lead to him seeing fewer snaps in the kicking game, Winovich still offers plenty of value in the game’s third phase. As his rookie campaign showed, he can effectively play on both kickoff and punt return units as well as the two coverage teams — all while also bringing some experience on the field goal and extra point blocking squads to the table.
Does he have positional versatility? As opposed to the two men he might help replace, Winovich has not shown plenty of versatility so far during his NFL career: the Patriots used him primarily as an outside linebacker in sub packages during his rookie campaign. Needless to say that he will need to grow in other areas to successfully fill a possible starting role like the one held by Van Noy — and along the way maybe become more positionally flexible as well.
What is his salary cap situation? Winovich signed a standard four-year contract with the Patriots after they drafted him last offseason, and he will therefore be on the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $930,328. Considering his potential role as a top-two edge option and four-unit special teamer, the deal — one that includes a fully-guaranteed signing bonus proration of $249,328 but no other guarantees — is very team-friendly.
What is his roster outlook? Based on his potential role and the promise he showed in 2019, Winovich can be considered a lock to make New England’s roster this year. The main question heading into the new season therefore is whether or not he will make the famous second-year jump. The Patriots certainly will count on the 25-year-old doing just that after letting both Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins walk as unrestricted free agents. Despite him him undergoing hernia surgery earlier during the offseason, Winovich is a breakout candidate in 2020.