With training camp underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 91 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 offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn.
Name: Isaiah Wynn
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 76
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6-foot-3, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Following an impressive four-year career at the University of Georgia — one that saw him start 41 games and line up at both tackle and guard — Wynn entered the NFL Draft as one of 2018’s most impressive offensive line prospects. It was therefore no surprise to see him get selected with the 23rd overall pick by a Patriots team that had lost long-time left tackle Nate Solder in free agency just one month earlier. However, it took Wynn some time to eventually fill Solder’s shoes.
After starting his career in New England as a candidate for the number three tackle job behind Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon, a torn Achilles tendon suffered in his preseason debut knocked him out for the entire 2018 campaign. Wynn did return to the field the following training camp but once again was unable to make it through an entire season with a toe injury forcing him to sit out eight games. 2020 was more of the same for the former first-rounder: he missed six games because of a knee injury.
All in all, the former Bulldog has therefore appeared in just 19 of a possible 52 games so far in his pro career. Nonetheless, Wynn looked good whenever on the field — prompting the Patriots to pick up the fifth-year option in his rookie deal to keep him under contract through 2022.
What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off a 2019 season that saw him showcase his immense talent but once again miss significant time due to injury, Wynn was a lock to start at left tackle for the Patriots entering his third year in the system. While he did not have the benefit of a traditional offseason workout period or any preseason games due to the Coronavirus pandemic, he worked well alongside his teammates and played an integral role in helping New England field one of the best offensive lines in the league.
Wynn started the first 10 games of the season, hardly ever leaving the field along the way. With the exception of a 25-play stint at left guard in Week 6 against the Denver Broncos, he lined up exclusively at left tackle again and looked like a top-tier player at the position at times. A powerful run blocker who combines a near-flawless technique with fluid movement, he also played convincing football as a pass protector: Wynn was tied for the team lead with 18 quarterback disruptions giving up, but he was still very good.
Going against the opponent’s best pass rushers on a regular basis, the 25-year-old surrendered 4 sacks during his 2020 season as well as an additional 5 quarterback hits and 9 hurries. He was far from perfect — the left guard experiment versus Denver turned out to be a failure — but he showed that he can be a franchise left tackle, and be a productive player when on the field for nearly 100 percent of snaps. Between the season opener and the Patriots’ Week 11 game in Houston, Wynn played 641 of 662 offensive snaps (96.8%).
That game against the Texans, however, turned out to be Wynn’s final contest of the season. Having been on the field for 65 straight snaps, he was rolled up from behind on the game’s final series. He remained on the ground, was unable to finish the game, and later had to be sent to injured reserve because of a knee issue. While there is no telling whether or not he might have been able to return at one point down the stretch, the Patriots decided not to reactivate him and instead kept him out through their final six games of the season.
Even before that game, Wynn was already listed on six of ten injury reports because of calf and ankle ailments. They did not force him to miss any playing time, and he looked good despite the issues, but together with his season-ending knee injury it cannot be denied that his medical situation again was a major storyline during his third year as a pro — even though that year also was the best of his career so far.
What is his projected role? Wynn’s future in New England was very much set in stone the moment he heard his name called in Round 1 of the NFL’s 2018 draft. The first three years of his career have not changed this despite his three trips to injured reserve: he is the team’s starting left tackle, and will continue to fill this role in 2021. While his health remains the biggest question heading into Year 4, under normal circumstances Wynn would rarely leave the field in any given week and play a considerable role within the Patriots’ offensive attack — just like he did the first 10 games of 2020.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots decided against using Wynn on special teams during his first real season in the system, but he did see some snaps in the kicking game in 2020. Playing as a right-side protector — first at guard, later at tackle — on field goal and extra point attempts, the former first-round selection was on the field for a combined 25 snaps in the game’s third phase. Heading into the upcoming season, the expectation is that New England will again give him some looks on special teams.
Does he have positional versatility? Wynn has aligned at left tackle on 97.9 percent of his offensive career snaps so far (1,179 of 1,204) and is locked into the role heading into 2021 as well. However, he did show some positional flexibility last season: as noted above, he aligned at left guard for 25 snaps against the Broncos. Given his inconsistent performance at the position, however, he should only be seen as an emergency option moving forward. His future remains at left guard, unless things go sideways for the Patriots.
What is his salary cap situation? While Wynn’s salary will see a big jump next season, when he will be playing on the fifth-year option, he is still comparatively cheap during the 2021 season. His salary cap hit of $3.64 million is the 17th highest on the Patriots’ roster at the moment, and clearly below the market value for starting-caliber offensive tackles in the league. Wynn’s cap number consists of his fully-guaranteed salary ($2.04 million) and signing bonus proration ($1.6 million).
What is his roster outlook? A roster lock, Wynn has the potential to become one of the best left tackles in football. However, there are two big questions surrounding him heading into the 2021 season: 1.) His injury status; while he is at training camp and looking fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his 2020 campaign, he has yet to go through a full season without being placed on injured reserve. 2.) His chemistry with new left guard Michael Onwenu; the two appeared to work well together during Thursday’s practice but it remains to be seen how they will look when actually appearing in games alongside one another. Nonetheless, Wynn’s role for 2021 is not in question whatsoever.