With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto the upcoming 2022 season.
The team currently has 86 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 linebacker Nate Wieland.
Name: Nate Wieland
Position: Off-the-ball linebacker
Jersey number: 59
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-1, 225 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 RFA)
What is his experience? Before entering the NFL as a rookie free agent signing by the Patriots, Wieland had an eventful college career. Playing in all three phases of the game in high school, he committed to Iowa to play linebacker but had to redshirt during his 2017 freshman campaign because of a torn quad. Wieland never appeared in a game for the Hawkeyes, instead transferring to Iowa Western Community College. Two years later, he transferred again, this time to Grand View.
Following a rather successful two-year career in the NAIA, Wieland decided to go pro. He did not hear his name called in the 2022 draft, however, and instead had to go the free agency route. After an unsuccessful rookie minicamp tryout in New England, he remained unsigned until early August. At that point, Wieland indeed signed with the Patriots. He has appeared in several training cam practices so far and also saw some action in the team’s preseason opener. Other than that, however, his pro-level experience is non-existent.
What did his 2021 season look like? Coming off a solid 2020 campaign at Grand View that ended with him earning first-team All-American honors in spring, Wieland headed into his junior season as one of the team’s most important players. He lived up to the expectations and helped lead the Vikings to a 14-1 record as well as a spot in the NAIA championship game. Even though the team fell short of a title, Wieland himself delivered a pretty solid individual campaign during what turned out to be his final year in college.
Lining up in the heart of the Grand View defense, Wieland registered a combined 70 tackles during his 2021 season. He also registered one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery as well as one interception; he also was credited with three pass-breakups. While the numbers were quite solid, Wieland was unable to make it through the season without missing some time — a problem that he has had before. When all was said and done, he had appeared in just nine out of the team’s 15 games.
What is his projected role? Wieland aligned as an off-the-ball linebacker during his time at Grand View, and the early indication is that the Patriots will not use the rookie any differently. While the position group as a whole has seen some personnel turnover, it appears settled at the top of the depth chart with Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson as the top three. Wieland will only serve as a backup and special teams option behind them.
Does he have positional versatility? When looking at his career as a whole the answer to that question is a resounding “yes!” Back in high school, Wieland was a dual-threat quarterback as well as a linebacker, defensive back and punter. Since the start of his college career, however, his positional flexibility has largely disappeared: the 23-year-old was used exclusively at the linebacker spot. The Patriots will also not move him around too much.
What is his special teams value? Just like most other undrafted rookie free agents, Wieland will have to leave his mark in the kicking game in order to have a chance at making the roster or practice squad in New England. He does have some experience in this area even outside of his time as a punter: the Patriots used him as a two-unit special teamer in the preseason opener, having him align on both the kickoff return and the kickoff coverage squad.
What is his salary cap situation? After inviting Wieland to their rookie minicamp and a subsequent free agency workout, the Patriots signed him to a standard three-year undrafted rookie deal in early August. That contract is structured in a pretty straight-forward fashion: Wieland is playing on a $705,000 non-guaranteed salary that also serves as his cap number; there are no signing bonuses or other guarantees in his pact. With the contract not qualifying for Top-51 status, Wieland is currently not counted against New England’s books.
How safe is his roster spot? While him making the team would be a “rags to riches” story of sorts given his small-school background, Wieland faces some pretty long odds to make the team. Not only is New England’s linebacker depth chart set at the top with Bentley, McMillan and Wilson, the team also has some experienced and/or higher-upside depth behind him: Cameron McGrone, Jahlani Tavai and Harvey Langi all appear to have better chances of making the cut or practice squad.
One-sentence projection: Wieland will get released as part of one of the earliest two waves of roster cutdowns.