With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto the upcoming 2022 season.
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 fifth-year offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn.
Name: Isaiah Wynn
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 76
Opening day age: 26
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.
Wynn proved himself a more durable player in 2021, but in total the former Bulldog has still appeared in only 35 of a possible 70 games so far in his pro career. Injuries aside, he looked promising whenever on the field, especially in 2019 and 2020— prompting the Patriots to pick up the fifth-year option in his rookie deal to keep him under contract through 2022. However, he was more up-and-down during his 2021 campaign and has since apparently been moved from his starting left tackle position to the right end of the line.
What did his 2021 season look like? Despite Wynn coming off yet another season that saw him miss significant time — he sat out the final six-game stretch due to the aforementioned knee injury — the Patriots made the decision to commit to their former first-round draft pick for an additional year. New England picked up his fifth-year contract option in May, essentially guaranteeing his spot on the roster through not just 2021 but likely 2022 as well. As for his fourth NFL campaign, Wynn was locked into the left tackle spot yet again.
There was still one major change compared to his previous two seasons as LT1, though: for the first time in his career, the ultra-reliable Joe Thuney was not lining up next to Wynn at guard. With Thuney having left for Kansas City, the Patriots turned to Michael Onwenu but he and Wynn failed to develop the same chemistry early on during the season. The result was some up-and-down play out of the starting left tackle, who surrendered 13 quarterback disruptions over the first four weeks of the season.
Wynn then missed Week 5 after testing positive for Covid-19 as an unvaccinated player, and played only a handful of snaps in his return versus the Dallas Cowboys one week later. When he reentered to the starting lineup in Week 7, Onwenu had moved to right tackle with Ted Karras filling in at left guard. Whether or not it was due to the change in personnel or Wynn simply having knocked off some early-season rust, he performed better from that point on and played at an above-average level during New England’s seven-game win streak.
Following the Week 14 bye, however, Wynn’s play became more inconsistent again. He had some disappointing outings against the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, looked good when facing a putrid Jacksonville Jaguars team, and had to leave the season finale in Miami after just nine snaps due to injury. Eventually, his hip and ankle ailments forced Wynn to sit out the wild card playoff loss in Buffalo one week later; for the third time in his four-year career he was unable to suit up for the final game of the season.
Wynn ended 2021 having played 914 of 1,169 offensive snaps (78.2%) and 77 more in the kicking game (of 464; 16.6%). He did have his ups and downs, and ultimately was credited with 28 quarterback pressures given up (including six sacks), but he also played some quality football during the middle parts of the season and again had his positive moments as a run blocker. His durability continued to be a concern, albeit on a relatively minor scale, but Wynn’s season as a whole was not as bad as it looked like at times.
What is his projected role? After being forced to take a redshirt season as a rookie, Wynn took over the Patriots’ starting left tackle gig and never looked back. However, it appears the team is willing to make a change this season: the 26-year-old spent most of mandatory minicamp and training camp thus far at the right tackle position; last year’s right tackle, Trent Brown, moved to the left side in his place. Whether or not the move will be permanent remains to be seen, but all signs point towards Wynn starting at RT rather than LT this year.
Does he have positional versatility? Wynn aligned at left tackle on 98.8 percent of his offensive snaps so far (2,093 of 2,118) but he did show some positional flexibility throughout his career. Back in college, he spent some time at guard and even center; he even returned to the left guard position in 2020 for a rather forgettable 25-snap interlude. Additionally, Wynn played some right tackle back during his rookie preseason and it now seems as if he is headed for that spot again.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots decided against using Wynn on special teams back in 2019, but he did see some snaps in the kicking game in both 2020 and 2021. Playing as a guard and tackle on field goal and extra point attempts, the former first-round selection was on the field for a combined 77 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 the place kick protection squad.
What is his salary cap situation? As noted above, the Patriots decided to exercise the fifth-year option in Wynn’s rookie contract last year. Accordingly, he is currently counting $10.41 million against the team’s cap: there are no bonuses or incentives of any kind in the one-year deal, but his entire base salary — those $10.41 million — is fully guaranteed. His resulting cap number is the fifth highest on the team’s current payroll and 19th highest among all offensive tackles in the NFL.
How safe is his roster spot? Based on his contract situation and status as a starter-level player, there are only two scenarios in which Wynn is not on the 53-man roster to open the regular season: he either is traded or sent to injured reserve pre- or post-cutdown day (only the latter would ensure a return at a later point in 2022). Both appear to be possible in theory at this point; his experience and upside might possibly be alluring to teams while he has missed time in camp due to another injury.
One-sentence projection: Even though his future is an uncertain one given his contract status and suddenly-modified role, Wynn will be on the Patriots’ 53-man roster this season as a starter along the offensive line.