With the offseason workout program and mandatory minicamp in the books, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 90 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September 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 bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series continues with linebacker Rashod Berry.
Name: Rashod Berry
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: 43
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-3, 265 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 RFA)
What is his experience? Berry arrived in the NFL as an undrafted free agent signing by the Patriots last spring, and so far has spent a significant portion of his time in the league on the team’s practice squad. That said, he does have three in-game appearances on his résumé. Berry furthermore brings considerable college-level experience to the equation after a five-year stint at Ohio State that saw him play not just as an occasional edge linebacker but also as a member of the team’s tight end position.
After redshirting as a freshman in 2015, Berry went on to appear in a combined 48 games for the Buckeyes, including four as the starting tight end. His statistics may not be overwhelming due to the program’s use of its tight ends in the receiving game — he finished his college career with just 17 catches for 198 yards and four touchdowns — but the youngster did repeatedly show his upside as a blocker. As a linebacker, meanwhile, he finished his time in Columbus with seven combined tackles.
What did his 2020 season look like? Berry did not hear his name called during the NFL’s 2020 draft, but found a home in free agency when the Patriots signed him a short time later. The youngster joined the team during an unconventional offseason, though: due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the league was forced to cancel in-person offseason workouts and the preseason schedule — making it harder for under-the-radar players such as Berry to make a team’s roster. Him getting waived on roster cutdown day was no surprise.
Still, Berry remained with the Patriots after he passes through waivers unclaimed and was signed to their practice squad. He went on to spend almost his entire rookie campaign on the developmental roster, before being promoted to the 53-man team ahead of the regular season finale versus the New York Jets. Berry went on to play 30 snaps in that game, but it was actually not the first time he was on the field: New England had elevated him to its game day roster on two previous occasions as well.
In total, he therefore finished his first year in the NFL with three in-game appearances: Berry saw the field in Week 6 against the Denver Broncos, in Week 13 against the Los Angeles Chargers, and in the aforementioned Week 17 contest versus the Jets. All in all, he was on the field for 40 snaps on the defensive side of the ball (of 1,017; 3.9%) as well as 33 more in the kicking game (of 399; 8.3%). Berry may not have played a prominent role when on the field, but his first year in New England can still be seen as a success.
Berry, who was used exclusively as an edge linebacker and special teamer and did not see any action as a tight end, also made his way onto the stat sheet from time to time. He registered one tackle in the running game, and also added a pair of quarterback disruptions. He may not have been a standout performer as evidenced by the fact that he was not promoted to the active squad until a de facto meaningless Week 17 contest, but he still had his moments and built a solid foundation as a rookie.
What is his projected role? Even though Berry has some tight end in his football DNA stemming from his time at Ohio State, his usage as a rookie suggests that he will be kept on the defensive side in 2021 as well. Based on how the team employed him last year, the expectation is that he will again be used as an outside/edge linebacker and situational pass rusher. Furthermore, he should be given his fair share of snaps in the kicking game as well.
What is his special teams value? Even though he only appeared in three games as a rookie, Berry was able to become a member on five special teams units. He played on both the punt and kickoff return squad, was used on kickoff coverage, and also saw action on field goal and extra point teams: New England used him both as a protector on its own kicking attempts as well as a rusher when on defense. Heading into his second year, Berry will likely see considerable kicking game snaps again.
Does he have positional versatility? While the Patriots used him in rather traditional fashion in 2020, Berry has shown during his four non-redshirt seasons at Ohio State that he can play on both the offensive and the defensive side of the ball. Within those different areas, the 24-year-old could theoretically also be moved around — from stand-up outside linebacker to three-point defensive end on defense, to fullback and in-line blocker on offense. That said, he should not be expected to see much action as a tight end.
What is his salary cap situation? When the Patriots promoted Berry to their active roster in January, they essentially gave him a one-game-and-one-year deal. That one year will be spent on a straight-up contract that includes a salary of $780,000 and no guarantees. Accordingly, the youngster is currently not counting against New England’s salary cap under the NFL’s Top-51 rule. Berry would have to make the team or practice squad, or alternatively be placed on injured reserve to count against the books.
What is his roster outlook? Given the Patriots’ talent on the defensive edge, Berry needs to make the famous second-year jump in order to crack the rotation. With Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Chase Winovich and Josh Uche all ahead of him on the depth chart, and with third-round rookie Ronnie Perkins a lock to make the team as well, the 24-year-old needs to show some considerable progress and also continue to build on his experience in the kicking game. It will not be easy, though, meaning that the practice squad might again be the most realistic destination for the former rookie free agent.