With the preseason underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto their upcoming 2022 campaign.
The team currently has 82 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 tight end Jalen Wydermyer.
Name: Jalen Wydermyer
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 88
Opening day age: 21
Size: 6-foot-4, 255 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 ERFA)
What is his experience? Even though Wydermyer only arrived in the NFL earlier this year, he is already on his second team. The young tight end spent three months between May and August with the Buffalo Bills, participating in the team’s offseason workouts, early training camp and preseason opener. After the Bills let him go, the Patriots picked him up to improve the depth at a position that had recently suffered some injuries; he did have to sit out the team’s second preseason game against Carolina, however.
Before entering the league, Wydermyer spent three relatively successful seasons at Texas A&M. Appearing in 35 games with 33 starts, the former four-star recruit caught 118 passes for 1,468 yards and 16 touchdowns — setting new school records for a tight end in all three categories. Although his success would not allow him to get drafted, it was recognized on several occasions: Wydermyer was named a second-team All-SEC selection twice and is also a two-time finalist for the prestigious John Mackey Award.
What did his 2021 season look like? Coming off an impressive sophomore campaign, Wydermyer’s third season with the Aggies was off to an unfortunate start. The junior tight end was unable to participate in spring practices because of what head coach Jimbo Fischer later described as a “freak, off-the-field accident” that required surgery. When the season was kicked off in September, though, Wydermyer was part of the starting lineup again and his usual productive self in the team’s offense.
However, he was not quite able to build on his first two years in College Station. Wydermyer did finish his final collegiate campaign as Texas A&M’s leader in receiving yards with a career-high 515, but he also saw his receptions (40) and touchdowns (4) decrease compared to his 2021 season. Nonetheless, Wydermyer was instrumental in helping the team finish with an 8-4 record — he was the starting tight end in all 12 of those games — and a bid in the Gator Bowl that the school later withdrew from.
Several individual accolades also came his way during and after the season. Wydermyer was voted to the second All-SEC team for a second straight year, and in late November was named a finalist for the John Mackey Award as one of the nation’s best tight ends. Additionally, Texas A&M honored Wydermyer with the Offensive Skill Award at the annual team banquet. Wydermyer eventually decided to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL Draft; he was later invited to the Scouting Combine.
What is his projected role? While it remains to be seen how the Patriots view him in their offense, Wydermyer projects as a receiving-first tight end with the potential to play both in-line and from the slot. Given New England’s impressive talent at the starter level — Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are the top-two at tight end — the 21-year-old will not be anything more than a third option during his 2022 rookie season, if even that.
Does he have positional versatility? While he was a two-sport athlete in high school, Wydermyer’s versatility entering the NFL is rather limited. His blocking in particular needs some work before he can become an all-around tight end instead of a one-dimensional receiver. As far as his flexibility to line up in different spots is concerned, he was used in-line and split out wide during his lone preseason game in Buffalo earlier this month.
What is his special teams value? While the sample size is rather small, Wydermyer actually received more opportunities on special teams than offense during his preseason debut as a Bill. He participated in three units, playing nine total snaps: Buffalo used him on the punt (3) and kickoff return squads (2) and also on the kickoff coverage team (4). The expectation is that he will be used in a similar fashion under New England special teams coordinator Cam Achord.
What is his salary cap situation? Buffalo signed Wydermyer to a three-year rookie deal in May, but his release changed his contractual outlook: New England was able to bring the youngster in on a one-year pact. That deal has a value of $705,000 and consists entirely of his base salary. With no guarantees embedded into the pact, it is currently not counted against the Patriots’ salary cap under the NFL’s Top-51 offseason rule.
How safe is his roster spot? Not only did Wydermyer join the NFL as a rookie free agent, he also arrived fairly late in New England. While the Patriots’ tight end group is far from settled behind Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, he is still standing on rather thin ice at the moment: the Texas A&M product is competing against Devin Asiasi and Matt Sokol for what is no more than one open spot on the roster, but the two have a lot more experience in the system.
One-sentence projection: Wydermyer will get released on roster cutdown day, but a good performance in the preseason finale might prompt New England to keep him on its practice squad.