The Patriots on Tuesday swapped one linebacker for another, reportedly trading Chase Winovich to the Cleveland Browns for Mack Wilson.
The move marks a predictable end Winovich’s career in New England. After racking up 11 sacks over his first two seasons, the 2019 third-round pick saw his playing time decrease dramatically in 2021, seeing more time on special teams than on defense while delivering zero sacks. Able neither to hold up on the edge in the running game nor handle playing inside linebacker, Winovich was a man without a role, despite his obvious pass-rushing ability.
So, the Patriots brought in Wilson, who if nothing else has proven capable of playing in the middle of the defense. But what is New England getting in the 24-year-old?
Wilson went to Alabama — yup, another Crimson Tide product on the Patriots roster — and was drafted by Cleveland in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The Alabama native is small for an inside linebacker at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds but possesses the kind of speed New England needs at that position. Wilson ran a 4.71 40-yard dash at his pro day.
It’s hard to get a good read on Wilson’s performance. He played in 88% of the Browns’ defensive snaps his rookie season and racked up 82 tackles with one sack, yet earned just a 41.4 defensive grade by Pro Football Focus. Wilson’s usage and productivity have dipped in the two seasons since, with 2021 seeing him register 42 tackles and zero sacks while playing in 21% of defensive snaps. However, Wilson earned his career-best PFF grade last season.
Injuries might be the biggest concern with Wilson. He’s missed three games in each of the last two seasons, with a lingering knee injury in 2020 causing him to consider early retirement. He also battled a shoulder issue during last preseason.
If Wilson can stay healthy and take to Patriots coaching, he has a chance to provide solid depth at inside linebacker. It will be interesting to see how he performs relative to 2021 fifth-rounder Cameron McGrone, who possesses similar size and speed but missed all of his rookie season after suffering an ACL tear during his final campaign at Michigan.
Fellow Patriots linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jamie Collins all are set to become free agents Wednesday and all have experience at inside linebacker. New England last week released veteran linebacker Kyle Van Noy, one of the more versatile players in its linebacker corps.