With less than a weeks to go until their entire roster is scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have 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 defensive line.
Name: Deatrich Wise Jr.
Position: Defensive end
Jersey number: 91
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-5, 275 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? Following five seasons spent at the University of Arkansas, Wise Jr. heard his name called in the fourth round of the NFL’s 2017 draft. One of a league-low four players selected by New England that year, he was the only member of the group to make the team’s 53-man roster his rookie year — a sign of things to come: Wise Jr. remains the most productive member of the Patriots’ draft class to this day and the only one to see regular action in all three of his seasons as a pro.
All in all, he has appeared in 46 regular season games and five postseason contests so far, and also played a prominent role during the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl 53. Along the way, Wise Jr. proved himself a solid and versatile member of the team’s defensive front-seven: while not a starting-level player, he still accumulated a total of 13.5 sacks and also developed nicely as a big-bodied run defender — not a bad résumé so far for a player who saw 130 others come off the board before him in the draft.
What did his 2019 season look like? Wise Jr. entered his third year in the league with plenty of momentum on his side, but was forced to sit out the Patriots’ organized team activities and mandatory minicamp in spring due to issues with his ankle and foot that first popped up during the playoffs. He subsequently also opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), but returned a short time later after passing his physical.
At that point, Wise Jr. found himself in a somewhat unfamiliar situation and playing a role that had changed a bit compared to his first two seasons in the NFL. With the Patriots having started experimenting with more 3-4 principles in their front seven following the departure of Trey Flowers and emergence of Jamie Collins, he was employed more as traditional defensive end as opposed to an edge: depending on the front New England used, the coaching staff employed him anywhere from the 2- to the 5-technique.
As a result of this move, his on-field time was impacted as well: Wise Jr. saw the lowest playing time share of his career. Appearing in 14 of the Patriots’ 17 games last year — he did not see the field in Weeks 2 and 9 — he played 268 of a possible 1,070 defensive snaps (25%). For comparison, he averaged 46.3% over his first two years as a pro. The former Razorback also was on the field for just five snaps in the kicking game (of 474; 1.1%), which represented another decrease from his cumulative 10.4% in 2017 and 2018.
Wise’s performance on the field also was inconsistent. He had some disappointing games, with the playoff meeting against the Tennessee Titans standing out, and also was tied for the team-lead with seven penalties. On the other hand, however, he also posted some solid efficiency statistics as an occasional pass rusher — the third-year man registered a combined 20 quarterback pressures in the form of two sacks, 11 hits and seven hurries — and continued his development as a run defender.
What is his projected role? Wise Jr. started his career with the Patriots as more of a traditional 4-3 defensive end, but was moved to the inside — aligning mostly between the offensive tackles — when the team went in a slightly different schematic direction in 2019. Heading into the new season and with New England’s front seven once more undergoing some personnel changes, everything seems to be on the table again. Based on his skillset, however, Wise Jr. still projects as a big-bodied pocket pusher and part time interior defender.
What is his special teams value? Before the 2019 season, Wise Jr. was a somewhat regular member of the Patriots’ kicking game units: he was employed on field goal and extra point teams on both offense and defense, and also saw limited action on punt return teams. Last year, however, he played just five special teams snaps — all in the regular season finale. Wise Jr. does have experience in the game’s third phase, so it will be interesting to see how his role develops heading into the 2020 season.
Does he have positional versatility? Ever since he arrived in New England, Wise Jr. was employed all over the Patriots’ defensive line. He was originally used as a rotational edge that was moved inside on select passing downs, but saw his role altered last year to more of a 3-4 tackle and sub-package end in 2019. No matter what the team opts to do schematically in 2020, however, the Arkansas product does have the versatility to carve out a role.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the final season of the four-year rookie pact he signed with New England in 2017, Wise Jr. is hitting the team’s books with a salary cap number of $2.28 million — one that includes just $145,140 in guarantees via the final proration of his signing bonus. Accordingly, the Patriots could create some considerable salary cap space if they decided to move on from him at this point in time.
What is his roster outlook? Wise Jr. is coming off three solid seasons as a rotational defensive lineman, but he is no lock to make the Patriots’ 2020 team. His contractual status in combination with a reduced role last year paints a bleak picture from his perspective, after all. That said, his experience and positional versatility to play all over the defensive line are certainly valuable and could help him stick around after all — especially as a part of a young front-seven that will need to get up to speed without the benefit of an offseason.