With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 86 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 are taking 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 defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr.
Name: Deatrich Wise Jr.
Position: Defensive end/Interior defensive line
Jersey number: 91
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6-foot-5, 275 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 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. is not just the most productive member of the Patriots’ draft class to this day, but the only one to stay with the team through all four of his seasons as a pro.
All in all, he has appeared in 62 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: after starting out as more of a edge defender in New England’s 4-3-based defense of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, he morphed into more of a interior lineman — primarily aligning as an end in 3-4 looks — over his last two years.
While not a starting-level player, Wise Jr. still accumulated a total of 16 sacks since joining the Patriots and also developed nicely as a big-bodied run defender. For a player who saw 130 others come off the board before him in the draft, his NFL résumé certainly is a solid one.
What did his 2020 season look like? After seeing his role change a bit during the 2019 season, Wise Jr. returned the final year of his rookie contract projected to play a prominent role along New England’s interior defensive line once again. He did just that, and had arguably the best season of his career: serving mostly as a traditional end in 3-4-based alignments or as a pass-rushing tackle in sub package looks, the former fourth-round draft pick spent more time on the field than any other Patriots interior D-lineman.
Overall, Wise Jr. played all 16 of New England’s games during the regular season — the third time in his career he was able to accomplish the feat — and was on the field for a career-high 55.6 percent of defensive snaps (565 of 1,017). For comparison, starter-level defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler played “only” 49.5 and 47.3 percent of snaps, respectively. While not as consistent a run defender as the two fellow interior linemen despite bulking up during the offseason, Wise Jr. still made his impact felt.
The four-year veteran, after all, was one of the Patriots’ most consistent and productive pass rushers throughout the 2020 season. In fact, only one other member of the team’s defense had more quarterback disruptions over the year than Wise Jr: whereas Chase Winovich finished with 56.5, Wise Jr. registered 38.5 — including 2.5 sacks. He also notched 42 combined tackles versus the run and added his first career touchdown when he recovered a fumble in the end zone versus the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3.
Along the way, Wise Jr. also saw some action in the kicking game: he played 44 of a possible 397 special teams snaps (11.1%) on New England’s field goal and extra point blocking units as well as the punt return team as a pressure player. All in all, his 2020 season was therefore a nice bounce-back year following what was a disappointing 2019 campaign. While still somewhat inconsistent and seemingly searching for a spot along the defensive line, Wise Jr. did get more opportunities than in the past.
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 back 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 who can align everywhere between the 3- and the 7-technique spots.
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. While his role changed in 2019 — he played just five special teams snaps that year — he had a 44-snap outing in 2020: Wise Jr. returned to the field goal/extra point blocking squads again while also seeing the occasional snap on the punt return unit.
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 ahead of the 2019 season to become more of a 3-4 end and sub-package tackle in 2019. No matter what the team opts to do schematically in 2021, however, the Arkansas product does have the versatility to carve out a regular role.
What is his salary cap situation? An unrestricted free agent, Wise Jr. stayed in New England via a four-year contract extension worth a total of $22 million. When it comes to the upcoming season, his deal will hit the team’s books with a salary cap number of $3.69 million (via Miguel Benzan): Wise Jr’s salary ($1 million) and signing bonus proration ($1.25 million) are fully guaranteed, and he also carries $1.44 million in likely-to-be-earned active roster bonuses and playing time incentives.
What is his roster outlook? Wise Jr. is a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster this season after signing a four-year extension just five months ago. The main question will be how the team will opt to use him, but one thing seems certain: he will see prominent playing time while moving through various alignments along New England’s defensive front. The 27-year-old will furthermore continue to be a locker room leader, and it would also not be a surprise to see him get voted a captain for the first time in his career. But even if that does not happen there is no doubt he will be an important member of the Patriots’ defense yet again.