New England Patriots defensive end Chase Winovich looks like he has all the tools to be an excellent pass-rusher — but can he stop the run as well?
There’s no question that Patriots defensive end Chase Winovich had the best season of all the 2019 rookies from last year’s New England draft class.
In fact, many Patriots fans probably wish that honor would have gone instead to the team’s first-round draft pick, wide receiver N’Keal Harry.
Had Harry not gotten injured and then re-injured during joint practices with the Lions and then the preseason game against them, perhaps he could have gotten further integrated in the New England offense and made more of a difference for that unit down the stretch last season. The Patriots O certainly needed Harry more than their D ever needed Winovich.
Other rookie contributors last season such as Joejuan Williams, Damien Harris, and Byron Cowart logged snaps without making any meaningful plays or impacts on the fortunes of the 2019 squad. Guys like Hjalte Froholdt, Yodny Cajuste, Ken Webster, and Jarrett Stidham either never saw the field at all or barely saw the field during the regular season.
Fifth-round pick Jake Bailey, a punter out of Stanford, is the only other rookie who could lay claim to the title of MVR — “Most Valuable Rookie” — for the Pats last season. Bailey was certainly everything the Pats hoped he would be and more, but as a punter, he’s never going to enjoy the same kind of notoriety and public reaction that an offensive or defensive player will.
So on that note, back to Winovich.
The former Michigan Wolverine played in all 16 games for the Patriots last year, albeit not on every play. Largely employed on obvious passing downs, the pass-rushing extraordinaire logged 5.5 sacks for 37 lost yards — good enough for fourth place on the team (tied with Dont’a Hightower) behind Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Adam Butler.
The 5.5 sacks are a phenomenal start for a rookie adjusting to the pros, no question. But just keep in mind that the Pats also played one of the weakest slates of opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines during the first half of the season last year. Four of those 5.5 sacks came against the likes of the Dolphins, the Jets, the Bills, and the Redskins between Weeks 2-5.
With Collins in Detroit and Van Noy in Miami this year now, the onus falls on Winovich to do even more though.
Third-year linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley is arguably the Patriots defender who will need to step up the most in 2020 since he’ll be tasked with replacing the production of Collins and Van Noy at the linebacker level, but Winovich isn’t far behind him, considering how the two departed ‘backers often lined up at the end to rush the passer in 2019, too.
One area that “Wino” needs to significantly improve upon this fall if he wants to make the fabled “second year jump” is in run defense and tackling. He ranked 17th on the team in both total tackles and solo tackles made last year (26 and 17, respectively). Statistically-speaking, only seven Patriots defenders made fewer solo tackles than Winovich last season, too.
This isn’t to suggest Winovich is a poor tackler or that he doesn’t have what it takes to become a true dominant defensive end in this league. Nevertheless, his production as a rookie paints a picture of him more as a pass-rushing specialist than it does as a three-down edge-setter.
It’s now up to Winovich to improve in run defense and tackling so that he can become that every game, every play, every down type of defender that Bill Belichick loves to have on his roster. Wino certainly has the talent and determination — now he just needs to take his game to the next level.