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 a member of New England’s defensive backfield.
Name: Lenzy Pipkins
Jersey number: 41
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-0, 195 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 RFA)
What is his experience? Pipkins originally arrived in the NFL as an undrafted rookie signing by the Green Bay Packers in 2017. Despite his status as a former free agent, the Oklahoma State product was able to make the team’s 53-man roster by carving out a role as a depth cornerback as well as a rotational special teamer. As such, Pipkins appeared in 12 games during his rookie campaign (although he played on defense in just five of them). While he had a solid start to his career, he failed to build on it in the two seasons that followed.
Pipkins was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in August 2018, but appeared in just one game for the team while moving between the active roster and practice squad on a semi-regular basis. In mid-October of the same year, the Detroit Lions claimed him off waivers and had him play in two games on special teams. Detroit also did not prove to be a permanent home for Pipkins, however, as he joined the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad after being waived by the Lions. He spent the rest of his 2018 season with the team, but was let go again the following August.
What did his 2019 season look like? After spending parts of 2018 in Green Bay, Indianapolis, Detroit and Cleveland, Pipkins stayed with the Browns after the season had come to an end: he signed a one-year futures contract in January that allowed him to compete for a roster spot during a full offseason with the club. Pipkins, however, was unable to do that after earning inconsistent playing time during the preseason and not standing out among Cleveland’s cornerbacks.
In total, he appeared in all four of the team’s exhibition contests and was on the field for 95 of a possible 290 defensive snaps (32.8%). Along the way, the third-year man was targeted four times in the passing game and surrendered four receptions for a combined 57 yards. He also had two tackles in run support. Pipkins furthermore saw regular action as a member of the Browns’ kicking game units — he played 32 of 116 special teams snaps (27.6%) — and added another tackle. All in all, though, his performance was rather pedestrian.
Cleveland releasing him as part of their final roster cutdowns in August was therefore no surprise. Once on the open market, the Patriots brought him in for a free agency workout in early September, but eventually decided not to sign him. The rest of the league did also not express any concrete interest in signing him, which is why Pipkins went on to spend the entire 2019 regular season and playoff cycle out of the league — not returning until New England did pick him up in mid-February.
What is his projected role? Based on his usage in the NFL so far, Pipkins projects to primarily be used as a perimeter cornerback in New England’s man-based coverage scheme. As such, he would likely serve as a depth option behind the projected top four at the position — Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Joejuan Williams — while also seeing regular action in the kicking game.
What is his special teams value? Over the course of his NFL career, Pipkins has played almost as many snaps on special teams (113) as he has on defense (122) despite the kicking game providing only about a third of opportunities: he was used on all four units — kickoff coverage and return; punt coverage and return — while with the Packers and along the way was also employed as a flanker on field goal and extra point blocking units. Since leaving Green Bay, his special teams roles remained mostly unchanged.
Does he have positional versatility? While Pipkins was primarily used on the perimeter in Green Bay, Detroit and Cleveland, the Colts opted to try him in the slot: he played 51 of his 53 defensive snaps with the club inside the formation. That said, the experiment failed as he surrendered five catches on five targets for a combined 41 yards (coincidentally against the Patriots in Week 5 of the 2018 season). Pipkins’ positional versatility on defense therefore appears to be limited, despite his experience.
What is his salary cap situation? Pipkins signed a one-year contract with the Patriots in February, that reflects his status on the team: he has a salary cap hit of just $755,000 that does not include any guarantees and is currently not counting against the NFL’s top-51 stipulation. Even if he would, though, New England would be able to move on from the 26-year-old without taking on any additional dead cap.
What is his roster outlook? Despite an encouraging rookie season, Pipkins has failed to prove himself to be more than a camp body so far in his NFL career. 2020 does not project to be any different: with the Patriots having a deep group of defensive backs ahead of him on the depth chart, he is competing for only the sixth spot among cornerbacks. That means that he will have to beat out special teamer Justin Bethel, second-year man D’Angelo Ross and undrafted rookie Myles Bryant. While not impossible, the odds appear to be stacked against Pipkins.