The New England Patriots parted ways with a lot of players from their historic 2019 defense. Over the course of the offseason, the team lost Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Dont’a Hightower, and Danny Shelton to either free agency or opt-outs. This massive front seven departure meant that somebody needed to step up, and Chase Winovich has answered the call.
Chase Winovich Making the Leap in Year 2
While Winovich obviously isn’t capable of replacing all of the aforementioned players (no single player could do that), the Michigan product has made the proverbial Year 2 leap. Widely considered a steal during the 2019 NFL Draft, Winovich spent the majority of his rookie season coming off the bench. He looked good when on the field, but couldn’t break into the starting lineup. You can’t really blame him for this, as last year’s defense was one of the best in recent memory. That said, this lack of playing time made him something of an unknown heading into 2020.
So far, Winovich has eliminated the doubt and proven that he is a true three-down starter in this league. Through the first three weeks of the season, Winovich has 1.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, and one tackle-for-loss. While the traditional numbers don’t jump off the screen, the advanced stats imply that Winovich is one of the best edge defenders in the league.
Using NFL Next Gen tracking data, ESPN has come up with two metrics designed to recognize efficiency in the run and pass game: Run Stop Win Rate and Pass Rush Win Rate. These metrics, for all intents and purposes, exist to show how often a defensive lineman wins their respective assignment in the run and pass game. Through three weeks, Winovich has the third-highest Run Stop Win Rate among qualifying edge defenders and is tied for fifth in Pass Rush Win Rate.
First one of these of the year!
Run Stop Win Rate while at edge (x) by Pass Rush Win Rate (y) while at edge.
ESPN metrics, NFL Next Gen Stats data. pic.twitter.com/5XpFKY2Gce
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 29, 2020
These metrics are far from perfect, but they’re a good general barometer for defensive line play. On the chart in the attached tweet, Winovich’s numbers are closest to Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, and Brandon Graham. Not bad company for the second-year pro.
Pro Football Focus Grading
While ESPN’s metrics can give a rough idea of defensive line play, Pro Football Focus is probably the more accurate indicator of talent. The fine folks at PFF grade every single snap from every single game and generally provide more context and nuance than ESPN metrics can provide.
PFF isn’t quite as high on Chase Winovich, but they still have him as one of the best edge defenders in football. According to their grading, Winovich is currently the ED24, right behind old friend Adrian Clayborn and two spots ahead of future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt.
What’s interesting about Winovich’s grade is that he seems to be held back by his run blocking. Winovich has an overall grade of 70.2, but a below-average run grade of 41.2. This is curious, as ESPN has Winovich as one of the NFL’s elite run defenders.
A possible explanation for this disparity could lie in how the Patriots use Winovich. PFF grades encompass every single snap that a player has, while ESPN’s data only accounts for plays on the edge. The New England Patriots love to move their defensive linemen all around the formation, and they even had Winovich playing some nose tackle at the beginning of the season.
It’s entirely possible that Winovich is a good run defender when aligned on the edge, but simply doesn’t have the size required to hold up to run blocks on the interior. New England never found an adequate replacement for Danny Shelton, so Winovich is probably playing more inside snaps than he should. This could change with the return of Beau Allen, which means that Winovich should be free to roam the edge and continue his great play.
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