With one month 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 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 rookie class.
Name: Dustin Woodard
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6-foot-1, 295 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2023 (2024 UFA)
What is his experience? Woodard arrived in the NFL as the tenth and final pick of the Patriots’ draft class when they selected him 230th overall in the seventh round of the event. His experience at the pro level is therefore limited to two months worth of virtual workout and teaching sessions as well as New England’s rookie developmental program. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Woodard has yet to practice on the field alongside his teammates. That said, he does have plenty of football on his résumé from his time at Memphis.
Woodard joined the school in 2016 and as a true freshman already proved his value and upside: he earned the starting spot at left guard in Week 3 and never looked back. Over the three seasons that followed, he went on to start games at all three interior positions and set the program record for most starts by an offensive lineman with 52. Furthermore, he was honored as an All-American Athletic Conference selection twice while playing a key role on three straight division championship teams.
What did his 2019 season look like? After having started all 14 of Memphis’ games at right guard the previous season, Woodard was asked to yet again change positions heading into his senior campaign: after beginning his career at left (2016-17) and right guard (2018), the Tigers’ coaching staff moved him to the center position. He did bring some experience at the position to the table from his time as a backup early during his sophomore season, but other than that had little center reps on his résumé.
The move still worked out, though, as Woodard took the change in stride and remained a core member of one of the most productive offenses in the entire nation in 2019. All in all, he started all 14 of Memphis’ games at the center position. And as he did the previous three years, he once again proved his durability along the way by being on the field for 928 of a possible 992 offensive snaps (93.5%) and not leaving the field at all in 10 contests. The veteran lineman later was named to the second All-AAC team for his performance.
One of the steadiest players in all of college football, Woodard therefore ended his career with the Tigers on a positive personal note despite the team losing its bowl game appearance — the fourth straight year that happened. Despite his individual success, however, he was neither invited to the Senior Bowl nor the NFL’s scouting combine; Woodard entered the draft process flying under the radar a bit.
What is his projected role? When the Patriots drafted Woodard in late April, they added him to an interior offensive line that was set at the top with starters Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason all set to resume their roles in 2020. Barring any injury atop him on the depth chart, the 22-year-old is therefore projected to serve as a versatile backup option capable of filling all three spots similar to free agency departee Ted Karras.
What is his special teams value? With the exception of Andrews, the Patriots usually like to employ their offensive linemen in the kicking game as well. Woodard does not project to be an exception during his rookie season: if he is able to make the team’s 53-man roster and later game day squads, he should receive regular special teams snaps as a member of New England’s protection units on both field goal and extra point attempts.
Does he have positional versatility? Woodard brings considerable experience at all three interior offensive line positions to the table from his time at the University of Memphis, and therefore projects to be used in a similar fashion at the next level: he started 14 games each at center and right guard as well as 24 additional contests at left guard. His size will prohibit him from also being trained at tackle like Joe Thuney, for example, but his versatility is still at a high level.
What is his salary cap situation? Shortly after the Patriots brought him aboard through the draft, Woodard signed a standard four-year rookie contract with the team. As part of this deal, he is currently on New England’s books with a salary cap hit of $24,331 — the entirety of his fully guaranteed 2020 signing bonus proration. If he survives roster cutdowns, however, this number will jump to $634,331 via addition of his $610,000 salary.
What is his roster outlook? While he did hear his name called on draft day and has all the makings of a versatile interior backup, Woodard is far from a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster this year. After all, he is facing some tough competition in the form of Hjalte Froholdt, Jermaine Eluemunor, Najee Toran and fellow rookie Michael Onwenu. If he fails to stand out against this group of players, Woodard may have to aim at a practice squad spot.