Dont’a Hightower‘s decision to opt out of the 2020 season has left the Patriots linebacking core seemingly in shambles. New England had already lost Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins (not to mention Elandon Roberts) in free agency, meaning none of their top three linebackers from 2019 will be with the team for the upcoming season. Bill Belichick desperately needs one of his young players to step up and emerge as a leader of that group. That player almost assuredly will be Chase Winovich.
Winovich didn’t see the field much as a rookie, but when he was out there, he was a force. The Patriots have been known to bring rookies along slowly, so it’s no surprise that Winovich wasn’t out there consistently in 2019, especially considering how much success New England was having with Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, John Simon and Dont’a Hightower (occastionally) on the edge. Winovich finished as the 32nd best edge defender in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Although that’s not an elite number, it’s a solid ranking for a rookie and Winovich should only get better.
After playing 57% of the defensive snaps on opening night, Winovich never played over 50% of the defensive snaps in any game for the rest of the season. He only played 3% of the snaps on defense in the Patriots playoff loss to the Titans, by far his lowest percentage of the season. All in all, Winovich played less than 29% of the team’s defensive snaps last season. Even still, he managed to rack up 5.5 sacks, which was good for 3rd on the team and only 1.5 behind Jamie Collins for the team lead.
That is absurd.
Add that onto a preseason performance in which Winovich put up 2.5 sacks in the first 2 games before being rested for the final 2 games and it’s clear the Patriots have something special. Triple Winovich’s snap count to around 86-87% (Van Noy and Collins were both around 81% last season, but Van Noy was at 90% in 2018) and the Patriots should easily be looking at a double-digit sack player. If he keeps up his pace from last season, that would be 16.5 sacks. That would’ve ranked 3rd in the NFL last season. The Patriots haven’t had a player reach anywhere close to those numbers since Andre Tippett in 1985. It might be a tad illogical to just assume Winovich can reach those heights based on snap count, but they’re certainly encouraging signs for a player the Patriots will rely on heavily in 2020. It’s probably safe to assume based on his rookie season that the Patriots have at least a 10-11 sack a year player on their hands. It’s important to remember that Winovich did all of this as a rookie. With a bigger role, more years of NFL experience and Bill Belichick’s tutelage, Winovich should have a very bright future.
Winovich looks poised to make a huge impact for New England in 2020. For a team in desperate need of young, cost controlled, impact players, (not to mention capable linebackers) it would be a godsend.
Photo: (Mike Mulholland – MLive.com)