With less than three weeks to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have the league-allowed maximum of 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 did the last three years as well — 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 undrafted rookie class.
Name: Courtney Wallace Jr.
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-2, 305 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)
What is his experience? As a member of the Patriots’ rookie class, Wallace has virtually no experience at the pro level to speak of. While he did participate in the team’s virtual offseason workouts as well as the rookie developmental program, the Coronavirus pandemic did not allow him to join his teammates at Gillette Stadium and participate in even a single on-field practice session. That said, Wallace has played plenty of football over his career — with the last five years being spent at Louisiana Tech.
Over the first four of those seasons — one of which Wallace spent as a medical redshirt (his 2016 sophomore campaign) — he served primarily as a backup and rotational member of the Bulldogs’ defensive line. Wallace’s playing time and statistical impact was therefore comparatively limited early on during his time in Ruston; he did regularly appear in games but it took until his final season to finally break out. Nevertheless, he did finish his college career with 48 in-game appearances.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off a rather disappointing junior year during which he played in 10 games but registered only two tackles and no other noteworthy statistics, Wallace was able to turn his career around over his final campaign at Louisiana Tech. He established himself as a starting defensive tackle heading into the season, and went on to be a top choice at his position in all 13 of the team’s games. Along the way, he also set numerous statistical career-highs.
Wallace finished his final collegiate season with 41 total tackles — including 8.5 for a loss of yardage — as well as a pair of sacks and three quarterback hits. He also forced the first fumble of his career when he knocked the football loose in late September’s game against Rice. Despite seeing an unprecedented uptick in playing time and responsibilities, Wallace did not shy away from the challenge and instead delivered the best season of his career. As a result of his play, he was named second-team All-Conference USA.
What is his projected role? Given his size and prior usage at Louisiana Tech, Wallace projects to serve as an interior defensive lineman at the next level. While the Patriots could give him some pass rushing looks, it appears more likely that he will be used primarily as a rotational early-down defender to take advantage of his solid anchor against the run and put him in a more favorable situation to mask his weaknesses when attacking downhill.
What is his special teams value? New England regularly uses its defensive linemen in the kicking game as well, and Wallace should not be expected to become an exception — especially considering his status as an undrafted rookie. The 23-year-old might therefore receive some early looks as a member of the Patriots’ field goal and extra point blocking units, and could also be used to apply pressure on punt return squads.
Does he have positional versatility? Wallace’s size does not make him an ideal candidate to be used outside of the traditional defensive tackle techniques: it would be a surprise if he saw any regular action against offensive tackles or tight ends. That said, New England might be willing to employ him anywhere from the 4i alignment to the nose depending on the offensive look — giving him more than just one clear role within his listed position.
What is his salary cap situation? A member of the Patriots’ rookie free agent class, Wallace signed a standard three-year contract with the team after not hearing his name called during the draft. The deal itself includes $20,000 in total guarantees — the fourth lowest figure among the team’s 15 undrafted rookies — with $4,000 of them coming in the form of a signing bonus. Accordingly, Wallace currently has only a minimal impact on New England’s salary cap. If he does make the team’s 53-man roster, his cap number will increase to $611,333 via inclusion of his salary.
What is his roster outlook? Heading into his first NFL training camp, Wallace is facing a tough challenge at the defensive tackle position. Three of the spots are already taken by Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Beau Allen, with both Byron Cowart and Nick Thurman offering more experience than the rookie. Together with fellow undrafted free agent Bill Murray, Wallace will try to challenge Cowart and Thurman this summer for what might very well be the fourth and final spot on the position depth chart. The odds, however, appear to be against Wallace which means that the practice squad might be his most realistic destination.