Patriots Have Received Unexpected Contributions In Pass-Rush Department

Three Patriots mid-round picks are paying off early in the 2020 season

by Doug Kyed

October 10, 2020

Three recent New England Patriots draft picks are making their presence felt in the face of opposing quarterbacks this season.

While it’s true that some of the Patriots’ recent draft picks have left something to be desired, let’s give Bill Belichick and the team’s scouting department credit where it’s due. Outside linebackers Chase Winovich and Derek Rivers and defensive end Deatrich Wise have stepped up in the Patriots’ attempt to replace Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy in their defensive front seven.

Winovich, a 2019 third-round pick, is fifth among qualified NFL edge defenders in PFF‘s pass-rush productivity metric, which “measures pressure created on a per snap basis with weighting toward sacks,” with a 9.9 rating on 15 total pressures, including eight hurries, four QB hits and three sacks on 91 opportunities.

Rivers, a 2017 third-round pick, ranks second in pass-rush productivity among edge rushers, albeit in a limited sample size, with a 10.6 rating on five total pressures, including three hurries and two sacks in 33 opportunities.

Wise, a 2017 fourth-round pick, ranks 16th among qualified interior defenders in pass-rush productivity with a 6.7 rating on eight pressures, including four hurries, three QB hits and a sack in 67 opportunities.

A Patriots edge defender hasn’t registered a pass-rush productivity rating over 8.4 since 2015, when Jabaal Sheard hit 10.3 with 58 pressures, including 45 hurries, five QB hits and eight sacks on 321 opportunities.

An interior defender hasn’t hit Wise’s 6.7 mark since 2015 when Dominique Easley put up a 9.0 rating with 35 pressures including 24 hurries, eight QB hits and three sacks in 210 opportunities.

Collins and Hightower set higher marks as blitzing linebackers in previous seasons.

Winovich, who also ranks eighth in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate as an edge defender and 32nd of 105 qualified edge defenders in PFF’s run-stop rate, worked hard to become a three-down defender this offseason, and his efforts paid off. He was a solid player as a rookie, and his production has increased as his snap rate has more than doubled.

Rivers is one of the Patriots’ best stories this season. He missed the entire 2017 and 2019 seasons with injuries and only played sparingly in 2018 as a second-year pro. Now, he’s bulked up and plays as a situational pass rusher in the Patriots’ defense. He managed just five total pressures in 2018 and looks like a new player four games into the 2020 season.

Wise also looks transformed this season as he bulked up from 275 into the 280-pound range. He played just 22.7 percent of defensive snaps in 2019. That rate is up to 45.8 percent this season.

Winovich and Wise also have made their plays count. Winovich forced a fumble on a strip-sack that was recovered by defensive tackle Lawrence Guy for a turnover against the Las Vegas Raiders. Wise scored a touchdown recovering a fumble after he combined with outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun for a strip-sack in the end zone also against the Raiders. Winovich also was in the backfield on that play. Winovich should have caused another turnover Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs when he sacked quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who coughed up the ball to Calhoun. The refs only ruled it a sack, however.

The Patriots’ defense, as a whole, has not been as stingy this season. But they are getting early contributions from some unlikely sources.

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
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