With the preseason underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto their upcoming 2022 campaign.
The Patriots currently have 80 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in late August 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 New England build on its 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie veteran defensive lineman Henry Anderson.
Name: Henry Anderson
Position: Defensive end/Interior defensive line
Jersey number: 94
Opening day age: 31
Size: 6-foot-6, 300 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? After a five-year career at Stanford that saw him appear in 48 games and register 17 sacks, Anderson heard his name called as the 93rd overall pick in the NFL’s 2015 draft. The third-round selection did have an up-and-down tenure with the Indianapolis Colts, though. While Henry showed promise as a big-bodied run stuffer in the middle, his limited pass rushing contributions and two separate stints on injured reserve led to him getting traded to the New York Jets following his third season in the league.
Anderson rejuvenated his career in New York. In his first season as a Jet, he appeared in all 16 games for the first time since entering the league and finished with a career-best seven sacks. While he notched only one-and-a-half of them over his next two years with the team, he still played a sizable role on its defense versus the run. Anderson has a combined 78 games on his NFL résumé as well as 170 tackles and 11.5 sacks between his stints in Indianapolis, New York and, since 2021, New England.
What did his 2021 season look like? Despite having played some solid football for the Jets between 2018 and 2020, the organization decided to part ways with Anderson shortly before the start of the 2021 free agency period. It took him two weeks to find a new team, moving within the AFC East to the Patriots: New England brought him aboard via two-year, $7 million contract to add him to a rebuilt position group that also saw the arrival of fellow free agents Davon Godchaux and the re-signings of Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise Jr.
As opposed to those three players as well as second-round draft selection Christian Barmore, however, Anderson’s impact on the 2021 Patriots defense was rather limited. The veteran appeared in the first four of his new team’s games in a rotational role, playing a combined 35 of 267 possible snaps on defense (13.1%) and 28 of 105 on special teams (26.7%). In Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, he suffered a torn pec and was placed on season-ending injured reserve a short time later.
Anderson’s first year in New England was a disappointment. Not only did it come to an early and unfortunate end, he also failed to carve out a consistent role on defense before going down. Primarily a run defender, he registered three tackles in four games and was not credited with any quarterback disruptions. Maybe his output would have increased later in the season, but based on his early performance in training camp, preseason and the regular season there was a realistic chance he might have continued to play a backup role.
What is his projected role? Anderson joined the Patriots last season with the hopes of carving out a consistent role as a base-package and early-down player, something he failed to do in 2021. Heading into his second year, the belief is that he will be used in a similar fashion, though. That means he will primarily be lining up as an end in 3-4 looks — possibly behind Deatrich Wise Jr. — but also move all over the formation. New England has a deep group along the interior D-line, however, so it remains to be seen how many opportunities, if any, the veteran will get.
Does he have positional versatility? While he is more of a run-stuffer than a penetrating interior lineman, Anderson has shown that he can succeed versus the pass as well. He also has proven himself capable of playing all over the defensive front: throughout his career he aligned everywhere from the 9-technique edge spot to the 0-technique nose position. Based on his limited usage the last two years, New England will continue to move Anderson around quite a bit to try to create favorable matchups for him and those around him.
What is his special teams value? While defensive linemen usually have limited value in the kicking game, Anderson’s versatility extends to special teams as well — at least to a certain degree. The 31-year-old has experience on the field goal and extra point blocking and protection units and was used in those areas during the 2021 regular season and 2022 preseason. Additionally, he was also employed on the punt return squad as a front-line rusher during last year’s exhibition slate.
What is his salary cap situation? Anderson originally arrived in New England on the aforementioned two-year, $7 million deal. However, that pact was modified earlier this offseason to create savings of $1.25 million against the cap. New England reduced his original base salary of $2.5 million by half, simultaneously giving him the option of making up the difference through playtime incentives. Because those incentives are considered not likely to be earned, however, they are not counted against the Patriots’ 2022 cap. As a result, Anderson carries a cap hit of “only” $2.43 million this year.
How safe is his roster spot? His experience, versatility and potential as an early-down run-stuffer are enticing, but the contract restructure earlier this offseason tells you all you need to know about Anderson’s status on the team: he is far from a lock to make the 53-man roster. Not helping him is the fact that young defensive linemen such as Sam Roberts, LaBryan Ray and DaMarcus Mitchell have all looked good this summer.
One-sentence projection: Anderson will be let go ahead of the 53-man roster cutdown deadline and wear another uniform this season.