When the Patriots were making moves this offseason, it became apparent they were working to build a faster and younger team overall. But the emphasis on improving the defense in several ways remained a focus throughout the draft and offseason.
At the start of free agency in March, it was announced the Patriots would be trading their former third-round pick, Chase Winovich, to the Browns in exchange for veteran linebacker, Mack Wilson. There wasn’t a lot of excitement at the time, but in the months since, Wilson has already made an impact on his new team.
Although much of the focus regarding the trade was blanketed with criticism for Bill Belichick’s questionable drafting, Winovich had been a trade candidate for quite some time. Through his first two seasons in New England, he was unable to become a significant piece of the defense. He struggled on the field, particularly on the edge, and didn’t bolster an already struggling rushing defense.
His production took a big hit in 2021 and he was seen less and less on the field throughout the year. It appeared the Patriots and Winovich were not meshing together anymore, making the trade announcement not very shocking to most around the league.
Acquiring Wilson in the trade flew under the radar for the Patriots, despite the linebacker fitting the mold of the new direction the team was working toward. He would stand out during preseason practices and games, earning a spot on the 53-man roster for the season ahead.
In the first game of the season, Wilson would split his time between the defense and special teams. Although he wouldn’t have the most memorable performance, the work he put in on the field was noticed by Belichick and earned him a starting role in the next game.
His production in week two against the Steelers may go unnoticed, but he was a part of some momentum-swinging moments that surely impressed his coaches and teammates.
One of Wilson’s best moments came late in the first quarter, as he perfectly tracked Mitchell Trubisky’s pass intended for Diontae Johnson. Wilson saw the quarterback looking to throw in his direction and as the football came his way, he would get his fingertips on it, causing the pass to fly above Johnson’s head and land in the waiting hands of Jalen Mills.
Mills would secure the interception and gain 13 yards on the return. Wilson was right behind his teammate through the end of the play, even getting a last-second tackle in as the two headed out of bounds.
The play ended the Steelers’ drive early, as they already crossed into New England territory, and provided the Patriots’ offense a shot to extend their early lead. It inevitably (and unfortunately) didn’t happen, but Wilson’s effort and awareness were impressive and could become a key factor in the defense’s success this season.
Through just the first two weeks with his new team, Wilson is playing exactly how the Patriots need him to. With his athleticism, speed, and natural instincts creating impactful plays, Wilson could evolve into an integral part of a defense on the path to being a real threat to opponents this season.