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Patriots 2021 roster breakdown: Chase Winovich will be a fascinating player to watch this season

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: LS Joe Cardona

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

With the offseason workout program in the books and training camp being kicked off later this month, 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 Chase Winovich.

Hard facts

Name: Chase Winovich

Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge

Jersey number: 50

Opening day age: 26

Size: 6-foot-3, 250 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? After seeing only limited playing time over his first three years at the University of Michigan — Winovich redshirted in 2014 before being used rotationally the next two seasons and appearing in 19 contests — he broke out during his 2017 junior campaign. Over the two years that followed, he started all 26 games he appeared in and posted some impressive numbers: Winovich registered 13.0 sacks and 13 additional quarterback hits, and also forced a pair of fumbles while recovering three of them.

Along the way, he was named to the All-Big Ten team twice (second team in 2017, first team in 2018) and also earned second-team All-American honors during his fifth-year senior season. Winovich was able to accomplish all that due to his high motor and technical approach to the game — one that led to him getting selected 77th overall by the Patriots during the 2019 NFL Draft. Over his two seasons in the league, the former third-round pick developed into a serviceable rotational player for New England.

In total, Winovich appeared in 32 regular season games as well as a playoff contest. Along the way, he proved himself a productive pass rusher: he registered a combined 81 quarterback disruptions and notched 5.5 sacks in each of his two seasons as a Patriot. He furthermore came away with an interception and also forced a fumble. While his playing time was somewhat inconsistent, Winovich regularly displayed the skillset that made him a highly-selected player in the draft.

What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off a solid rookie season that saw him earn a prominent role in the Patriots’ edge rotation, Winovich was a realistic candidate to take the famous second-year jump and become a core member of the team’s defensive front seven. While he did not fully become just that, and at times saw some inconsistent playing time, he still was a productive player and finished the 2020 season as New England’s most productive pass rusher in every statistical category.

In total, Winovich saw action in all 16 of the Patriots’ games and was on the field for 594 of a possible 1,017 defensive snaps (58.4%) — second most among the club’s outside linebackers behind only veteran John Simon’s 702. As opposed to Simon, however, the youngster was usually not employed as an every-down defender. While New England’s coaches gave him significantly more opportunities versus the run, he was used in more of a package-specific capacity and at times seemed more comfortable when asked to attack the pocket.

Winovich did just that on 58.7 percent of his snaps (348 of 594), and he was a difference maker for the team whenever playing downhill. In fact, as noted above, he finished the season as the Patriots’ leading pass rusher: Winovich registered a total of 58.5 quarterback disruptions. He led the team with 5.5 sacks and also was first on the squad with 18 hits and 33 additional hurries. When compared to his snap numbers, he was able to apply pressure on 16.8 percent of his pass rush attempts.

Winovich’s contributions went beyond the pass rush, though. He also added 31 tackles in the running game to his résumé, including two for a loss of yardage, and furthermore forced a fumble during New England’s win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3. On top of those numbers he also added an interception: Winovich perfectly read Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert in Week 13 to undercut a short throw over the middle and come away with the pick — the first of his young career.

While his contributions on defense obviously stand out, Winovich also played a prominent role in the kicking game in 2020. Only four other Patriots saw more special teams snaps than the second-year man: Winovich was on the field for 184 of 399 snaps (46.1%) while seeing occasional action on five different units. His four combined tackles may not stand out compared to some of his teammates, but he looked solid in the game’s third phase yet again despite his playing time share dropping a bit from 57.6 percent in 2019.

All in all, however, Winovich had quite a solid season. He may not have taken a massive leap compared to his rookie outing, but he still showed why he was a valuable member of the roster: he was disruptive as a pass rusher, saw more action in the running and coverage games, and also kept a big role in the kicking game. He may have had his ups and downs in terms of playing time, but he made some positive contributions whenever his number was called upon during the 2020 season.

2021 preview

What is his projected role? Winovich was used primarily as an outside linebacker during his first two seasons in the New England system, and he is expected to continue playing this role in Year 3. While his alignment will likely remain the same, his playing time share might see some changes due to the additions of fellow edge defenders Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy in free agency, as well as Ronnie Perkins being drafted in the third round. Still, Winovich should see regular action as a rotational edge option.

What is his special teams value? As his first two years in the NFL showed, Winovich offers plenty of value in the kicking game. In 2020, for example, he played on five units: he was used on both kickoff and punt coverage teams, played on the two return squads, and also was asked to apply pressure on field goal and extra point blocking units. His playing time share went down a bit last season, but Winovich saw a healthy workload especially from Week 7 on. There is no reason to believe this will change.

Does he have positional versatility? The vast majority of Winovich’s snaps last season — 529 of 594 (89.1%) — came with him aligned as an outside linebacker over both the weak and the strong side of the formation. That said, the Patriots did give him some off-the-ball snaps as well. Those could be a sign of things to come: as he indicated during a media conference call earlier during the offseason, he has trained at multiple positions. Winovich could be a candidate to be given more of a “move” linebacker role going forward.

What is his salary cap situation? Entering the third season of his four-year rookie pact, Winovich is on New England’s books with a salary cap number of $1.1 million. That number constitutes of his $850,000 salary as well as his $249,328 signing bonus proration. As a result of this straight-forward structure, his potential cap savings in case of release or trade are also obvious: the Patriots could clear his salary off their books if they move on from him. That said, such a move would not create any real savings under the NFL’s Top-51 rule.

What is his roster outlook? While he played a notable role for the Patriots in 2020, the potential emergence of fellow outside linebacker Josh Uche as well as the aforementioned offseason additions could cut into Winovich’s playing time on the edge. It will unquestionably be fascinating to watch how he fits into the picture. He might see a reduced workload, get more action as an off-the-ball defender, be employed as a package-specific pass rusher, or find himself off the roster altogether. The latter scenario seems somewhat unlikely, though: you need quality depth in the front seven and Winovich is just that.