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Patriots 2021 roster breakdown: Henry Anderson adds a versatile skillset to New England’s defensive line

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: DT Lawrence Guy

NFL: Washington Football Team at New England Patriots Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

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 Henry Anderson.

Hard facts

Name: Henry Anderson

Position: Defensive end/Interior defensive line

Jersey number: 94

Opening day age: 31

Size: 6-foot-6, 300 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? After a five-year career at Stanford that saw him appear in 48 games and register 17 sacks, Anderson heard his name called as the 93rd overall pick in the NFL’s 2015 draft. The third-round selection did have an up-and-down tenure with the Indianapolis Colts, though. While Henry showed promise as a big-bodied run stuffer in the middle, his limited pass rushing contributions and two separate stints on injured reserve led to him getting traded to the New York Jets following his third season in the league.

Anderson rejuvenated his career in New York. In his first season as a Jet, he appeared in all 16 games for the first time since entering the league and finished with a career-best seven sacks. While he notched only one-and-a-half of them over his next two years with the team, he still played a sizable role on its defense versus the run. In total, Anderson has 74 games on his NFL résumé as well as 167 tackles and 11.5 sacks. He furthermore missed only three total games in the three years since leaving Indianapolis.

What did his 2020 season look like? After dealing with a nagging shoulder injury for most of his 2019 campaign, Anderson headed into his sixth season in the league fully recovered from the ailment. While unable to enjoy a traditional offseason and summer preparation due to the league’s Coronavirus guidelines, the veteran still ended up playing a prominent role along the Jets’ defensive line: Anderson saw action in all 16 of the team’s games and was listed as a starter in eight of those contests.

All in all, the former Colt was on the field for 549 of a possible 1,139 defensive snaps (48.2%) — ranking second among New York’s interior linemen behind only Quinnen Williams’ 587. Anderson was a comparatively steady contributor on a defense that had its fair share of issues in the final year of head coach Adam Gase’s tenure. While also used versus the pass, his biggest impact came in the running game: seeing regular action from various defensive line alignments, Anderson finished with a combined 40 tackles versus the run.

For comparison, his numbers in the passing game due not stand out. Despite playing more snaps as a pass rusher than a run defender — 307 versus 239 (he also dropped back into coverage on three occasions) — he notched only half a sack as well as six additional quarterback disruptions. Anderson did also see regular playing time in the kicking game, and was on the field for 106 of a possible 444 special teams snaps (23.9%), but the Jets nevertheless decided to release him two months after their season came to an end.

2021 preview

What is his projected role? The Patriots started to incorporate more 3-4 principles in 2019, and the addition of Anderson and other free agent defenders this season is a sign that this development will continue in 2021. In this base alignment, the veteran is projected to be used primarily as an end — possibly on the other side of Deatrich Wise Jr. — or as a rotational defensive or nose tackle in odd and even fronts. New England has a deep group along the interior D-line that is projected to see plenty of snaps out of Anderson on early downs and in short-yardage situations.

What is his special teams value? While defensive linemen usually have limited value in the kicking game, Anderson can help New England on the field goal and extra point blocking unit. He also has experience on the two place kicking squads as well as a front-line rusher on the punt return units. In total, the 29-year-old has averaged around 83 special teams snaps over the first six seasons of his career. Two games into his first preseason as a Patriot, he has played nine snaps in the game’s third phase.

Does he have positional versatility? While he is more of a run-stuffer than a penetrating interior lineman, Anderson has shown that he can succeed versus the pass as well. He also has proven himself capable of playing all over the defensive front: throughout his career he aligned everywhere from the 9-technique edge spot to the 0-technique nose position. New England will likely also move Anderson around quite a bit to try to create favorable matchups for him and those around him.

What is his salary cap situation? Anderson joined the Patriots’ on a two-year, $7 million free agency contract in March. As part of this deal, he will hit the team’s books with a salary cap number of $3.35 million this year: Anderson plays on a $1 million salary and $1 million signing bonus proration — both of which are guaranteed — while also carrying $1.35 million in additional bonuses that are considered likely to be earned and therefore counted against this year’s cap.

What is his roster outlook? The structure of Anderson’s contract and his ability to fill multiple role along the Patriots’ defensive line strongly suggest that he will be on the 53-man roster come the first week of the regular season. How New England will then use him remains to be seen, but he is a strong run defender on early downs while also having the skillset to penetrate up the field in pass rushing situations. Anderson playing a healthy role in the rotation up front would not come as a surprise.