With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 87 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie defensive back Brenden Schooler.
Name: Brenden Schooler
Position: Defensive back/Safety/Special teamer
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 67)
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 RFA)
What is his experience? Schooler entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent earlier this year, meaning that his experience in the league is limited to offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp as well as the Patriots’ rookie developmental program. That said, he has a lot of football on his résumé after having spent six years in college: between his time at Oregon and Texas — plus a short offseason stint at Arizona — he appeared in a combined 61 games while moving between safety and wide receiver.
The first four years of his college career were spent with the Ducks, where he 40 games. Initially joining the team as a defensive back, he moved to offense ahead of his sophomore year and went on to catch 43 passes for 521 yards and four touchdowns over the next three seasons. He entered the transfer portal in October 2019, briefly moved to Arizona, and reemerged as a Longhorn in August 2020. After a 12-catch, 140-yard campaign with two TDs, Schooler moved back to the defensive side of the ball as a super senior.
What did his 2021 season look like? After four straight seasons as a wide receiver, Schooler changed positions back to the one he initially played upon entering the college level in 2016: he went back to the safety spot — a position he felt more comfortable at, according to the man himself. This comfort was on full display throughout his second season in Austin, and from the first game on. Schooler started his super senior campaign in the Longhorns’ starting lineup in a win over Louisiana.
All in all, he ended up starting seven of the team’s 12 games under first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian and registered 50 tackles — fourth best on the team — including 1.5 for a loss of yardage. Additionally, Schooler notched one half-sack and a forced fumble while also breaking up a pair of passes. Despite not having played safety since his freshman year at Oregon, Schooler was able to make a mostly positive if at times a bit inconsistent impact. He was at his best on special teams, though, leading the team with six tackles.
What is his projected role? While it is possible to see him take some practice reps or even preseason snaps on offense at one point, it seems far more likely that Schooler’s usage with the Patriots will be two-fold: serve as a depth option at the safety position, and as a core special teamer. As such, his role would look similar to the one that is being played by veteran Cody Davis. Davis, of course, has some theoretical value on defense but has not played a single snap on that side of the ball since his arrival in New England in 2020; he is a special teamer through and through and potential blueprint for how Schooler will be used.
Does he have positional versatility? Theoretically, Schooler offers some tremendous versatility as a two-way player and major presence in the kicking game: he spent four years in college as a wide receiver plus two more at safety. As noted above, however, seeing him employed in that fashion seems unrealistic at the next level. More likely than not, Schooler will serve as an emergency box safety and potential five-unit special teamer.
What is his special teams value? Make no mistake about it, Schooler needs to be able to leave his mark in the game’s third phase if he wants to have a future in the NFL. Luckily, he has some considerable experience in the kicking game and was voted first-team All-Pac 12 twice (2017, 2018) for his contributions to Oregon’s special teams group. At the next level, the 24-year-old might be used on both punt and kickoff return and coverage teams as well as the field goal/extra point blocking squad.
What is his salary cap situation? Schooler signed a standard three-year free agency deal with the Patriots after not hearing his name called in the 2022 draft. His deal carries a cap number of $715,000 this year which is split up into a $710,000 salary plus a $5,000 signing bonus proration. At the moment, only the fully-guaranteed signing bonus is counting against New England’s cap under the league’s Top-51 rule. The salary would be added to the mix in case he makes the roster come September. If not, he would carry a $15,000 dead cap charge.
How safe is his roster spot? Whether it is his status as an undrafted rookie, his contract structure, or his limited upside outside of the kicking game, Schooler is far from a roster lock. Accordingly, he will need to prove himself against other defenders on the fringes of the roster this summer; fellow defensive backs Joejuan Williams, Joshuah Bledsoe and Shaun Wade will likely be among his competition, as will be linebackers Jahlani Tavai and Harvey Langi. While none of them are world-beaters at this point in their careers, the odds still seem to work against Schooler.
One-sentence projection: Schooler will not be able to challenge Cody Davis’ standing on the roster, but after a year on the practice squad might be a candidate to take over for the veteran.