Recently, Bleacher Report posted an article highlighting one player each NFL team should look into acquiring before the start of the 2021 season. Interestingly enough, the player mocked to the Steelers via trade was none other than New England Patriots EDGE Chase Winovich, a player that had been brought up often by Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora on the Terrible Podcast.
The acquisition of Winovich makes sense for a variety of reasons. First, Pittsburgh currently lacks established depth behind starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, having only journeyman Cassius Marsh and sixth-round rookie Quincy Roche as viable backup options. Second, the Patriots have had an overhaul of their roster over the offseason, adding the likes of Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy in FA while also adding Ronnie Perkins in the draft. These players are added to a group that already features Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Tashawn Bower, Deatrich Wise, and Winovich who all contribute as a DE/OLB type in New England’s defense. Winovich only played in 29% of the snaps his rookie season in 2019, but saw his role increase in 2020, logging nine starts with 594 snaps played on defense.
However, given the former players returning from opt-outs or resigning with the team as well as the younger drafted options, the depth chart looks stacked bringing to question what Winovich’s role for the Patriots would be in 2021.
To understand more of what Winovich brings to the table, here is the summary I wrote on Winovich during the 2019 NFL Draft cycle:
-Chase is an older prospect that symbolizes a blue-collar, lunch pail player. Has decent size for a standup edge rusher (6’3, 256lb), but would be undersized with his hand in the dirt. Winovich possesses a nonstop motor on every play has he relentlessly pursues the passer or runs down a ball carrier. You see him make a lot of chase down tackles due to his effort. Does a great job of playing with heavy hands and utilizing the stack/shed against the run as well as rushing the passer. Can shoot the gap so hard on an inside rush lineman don’t get a shot to get their hands on him. Smells blood in the water when in pursuit and closes fast to finish the play. Good at setting the edge and reading the option. However, Winovich does struggle with lateral speed and change of direction. When a ball carrier gets outside of him, he will give ground due to lack of athleticism. Slow in pursuit to the sideline compared to his straight up rush. Doesn’t get out of his stance as fast as other twitchy edge rushers.
Question remains whether he can effectively drop into coverage. While he may be limited athletically, he showed at the Combine he possesses solid straight-line speed (4.56). Showed more production than his teammate and blue-chip prospect Rashan Gary. Overall, Winovich’s upside is limited, but he has an amazing football character, is a great leader, and has a tough personality that will never stop on a play. His film resembles Markus Golden out of Missouri, and he should be drafted in the 2nd-3rd Round as a role player who can work into a starting role.
While this was written prior to the 2019 NFL Draft, much of this analysis still holds true with Winovich in the league today. He plays with his hair on fire every rep and shows phenomenal pursuit of the football, whether it be as a pass rusher or a run and chase defender. Here is a play versus Dallas which shows Winovich’s closing speed from the backside of this screen play, running down #20 Tony Pollard from behind along the sideline. Notice how this play was made running to the sideline, something I said he was a tad slow diagnosing and committing to in college but shows here on a great effort play.
He is willing to throw his body out there in run defense, taking on blockers with his inside shoulder to chop down the block and cause a pileup in the backfield like we see here on this run play against the Jets. He goes low on the pulling guard from the left side, taking him and the LT to the ground and allowing the defense to rally to the ball for the tackle for no gain.
On this play against the Dolphins, we see Winovich shoot the inside gap across the TE’s face on the inside run play, being able to push the TE back and spin off the block to bring the runner to the ground in the at the LOS. You would like to see Winovich play more with his shoulders square, to the ball, but his effort and strength create penetration inside to blow up the play in the backfield and limit the ball carrier to little-to-no gain.
While a strong, powerful player on the edge, Winovich is more of a tweener at the position, lacking ideal size to be a base 4-3 DE. His ability to anchor and keep outside contain against size on the offensive line can be spotty at times as he will cede ground against larger offensive tackles like we see here against #68 Robert Hunt on the right side as he gets knocked back by the block and the runner gets to the sideline for the big run.
I mentioned in my blurb above when scouting Winovich out of Michigan that he lends to play with heavy hands and can stack and shed blocks relatively well in run defense as well on his pass rush. While going up against RB #32 Chris Carson here instead of a tackle, we still do see Winovich’s speed off the edge being left unblocked to turn the corner, getting inside Carson’s pads and tossing him aside like a rag doll to finish at #3 Russell Wilson in the pocket.
Along with the push/pull, Winovich has a couple of other moves in his arsenal to get to the QB. He’s had 5.5 sacks in each of his first two seasons with one season being relegated to a reserve role as a rookie and only a part-time starter last season, so respectable numbers for the mount of snaps he sees on defense. Here against the Lions we see a beautifully executed rip under the RT after a well-timed get off on the snap. He displays great bend underneath the blocker’s arms, staying low to the ground as he finishes in the lap of #9 Matthew Stafford for the sack.
Another example of Winovich’s rip move against the Seahawks where he doesn’t get the same amount of bend on the edge but shows that effort he is known for by ripping his inside arm through while keeping his legs running to fight through the block and meet his teammate at Russell Wilson to trap him from possibly escaping.
Here against the Titans in preseason action his rookie season, we see Winovich attempt the rip again on the RT while running the arc. However, he stops his momentum and counters back inside, pulling the tackles arm down to make him lose balance and fall forward as he maneuvers back inside and takes down #17 Ryan Tannehill in the pocket for the sack. So Winovich displays an inside counter move to one if his favorite moves in the rip as well as a push/pull move to rush the passer, something you like to see in an edge rusher entering only his third season in the league by having a pass rush plan.
Along with winning on his own, Winovich has the versatility to rush when kicked inside the tackle or from the off-ball linebacker spot. He also was well-utilized on stunts and twists with other defenders in the Patriots’ exotic blitz schemes, getting guys running open or with distinct angle advantages like we see here against Washington where Winovich starts outside but cuts back inside as #54 Don’t’a Hightower goes outside. #72 Donald Penn can’t work around Hightower and no communication happens between the LT and LG, leaving the QB a sitting duck as the defense converges for the sack.
While mentioned above that Winovich doesn’t have a whole lot of experience making drops into coverage coming out of college, he has shown he is capable of doing such in the league. Here against the Steelers, we see Winovich drop into the middle zone on a Cover-3 look, playing with his shoulders square to the ball and eyes on Ben as he stays on top of #19 Juju Smith-Schuster. Sure, he gives up some separation when Juju starts to run to the left, but he is right there to bring him down after the catch to keep the YAC to a minimum. While Winovich shouldn’t be seen as a great pass coverage option due to limited change of direction ability, he remains in good position and makes the play on the slot receiver in coverage for being 250+ lb., showing he is capable when asked to do so.
So, knowing all this, what would the acquisition of Winovich mean for Pittsburgh’s defense in 2021? Compared to other veteran options currently out on the market and other potential trade targets highlighted by Steelers Depot’s very own Tom Mead, I would argue that Winovich is a higher caliber player, being only 26 years old himself deserving of more play time than your average veteran minimum depth signing. While Watt’s role on the defense is solidified, to do think that he can make a push to Alex Highsmith at EDGE #2 should he adapt to Pittsburgh’s defensive system which isn’t too different than what he currently runs as a standup outside linebacker in New England. He has the pass rush production to be a quality #2 guy, having the couple go-to moves and a counter to win on the outside.
While his base may not be the greatest against the run compared to larger edge defenders, he holds his own at the point of attack well similarly to Highsmith and I would argue Winovich’s pursuit of the football is better at this moment than Highsmith based on my film study. While both aren’t overly skilled in coverage, I think their ability to perform coverage drops are relatively similar.
A knock on Winovich is that he would likely have to battle for the ROLB spot with Highsmith, having mainly played on the left side during his first two seasons in the league, but that may not be that big of an issue. Another knock is that Winovich is two years older than Highsmith (turns 24 in August) and may be closer to his ceiling than his competition may be, on the verge of becoming a full-time starter to show what he can do in his second season. All this said, this may be the reason why Pittsburgh chooses not to pursue Winovich, even if available, as it may mess with their plan of grooming Highsmith to take that next step, adding serious competition to the position.
However, should Pittsburgh be serious about adding talent and depth to the EDGE spot, Winovich gets my vote as a young, productive, and inexpensive option that fits the mold of what Pittsburgh is looking for and would likely start behind Highsmith in the pecking order initially as he adjusts to his new scenery, but will demand to play more snaps based on his ability to produce as he becomes acclimated to his new surroundings.
What are your thoughts on the possibility of potentially adding Chase Winovich into the fold? Do you think he would be no more than depth at the position, or do you think he could push Highsmith for playing time? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below and thanks again for reading!