Isaiah Wynn Downgraded to OUT, Four Elevated By Patriots in Advance of Saturday Showdown With Bills
With kickoff for Saturday's Wild Card Weekend showdown between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills just over 24 hours away, the Pats made a series of roster moves that may have a significant impact on the field at Highmark Stadium in frigid Orchard Park, New York.
Here is a look at the Patriots personnel activity and the potential impact it may have on their chances to upset the Bills on Saturday night.
New England downgraded starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn from ‘questionable’ to ‘out’ Friday afternoon. The 26-year-old had been sidelined from practice all week due to hip and ankle injuries.
Despite the occasional breakdown in protection, Wynn largely performed well in 2021. He made 15 starts during the regular season, finishing fifth on the team’s offensive unit in logging 916 snaps. Pro Football Focus charted him for six sacks and five quarterback hits allowed. Prior to this week, Wynn had also been one of the most durable Patriots in 2021. The former Georgia Bulldog missed only one contest, New England’s Week Five victory over the Houston Texans, while on COVID-19/Reserve.
Wynn left Sunday’s season-finale between the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter with said ankle injury and did not return. Reserve lineman Justin Herron served as Wynn’s replacement, playing on 52 offensive snaps.
Given the circumstances, it appears that Herron will be called upon to sub for Wynn once again.
Despite his struggles, Herron has been a solid depth piece along the Patriots offensive line in 2021. However, it should be noted that the Pats’ 2020 sixth-round draft choice will now be assigned primary protection duty for quarterback Mac Jones in his postseason debut. It will also be Herron’s first playoff game as a pro. Still, Herron has earned the confidence of head coach Bill Belichick. When asked about Herron by reporters on Thursday, Belichick replied:
“Like most of our players going from year one to year two, that first year’s a lot of experience, much better understanding of what we’re doing, what our opponents are doing, how different each opponent is with their physical skill set and technique. Like all of our second-year players, I really lump them all in together because it’s pretty much the same conversation. Big growth from year one to year two, especially for those guys last year who had no spring, didn’t have the foundation that they were able to have this year, and that was helpful for everybody obviously.”
Some have speculated that fellow reserve lineman Michael Onwenu might be a candidate to fill the potentially vacant spot on the line. However, Onwenu’s presence would likely mean moving starting right tackle Trent Brown to the left spot (a position he played for the Patriots in 2018), and placing Onwenu at right tackle, where he earned praise during his 2020 rookie season. While these moves are both plausible and possible, they remain unlikely. The Pats are generally reluctant to move pieces of their offensive line around, especially heading into the playoffs. In addition, Brown told reporters earlier this week he has yet to take any practice reps at left tackle since organized team activities in the Spring. Also, New England has been effectively using a package of six offensive linemen, which features Onwenu as a tackle-eligible tight end. Placing him in the starting lineup may limit the Pats’ ability to do so.
Though the move would allow the Patriots to start their best available offensive linemen, Herron should see the majority of the snaps at left tackle on Satruday.
Practice Squad Elevations
The Patriots have elevated defensive back De’Vante Bausby, cornerback D’Angelo Ross, defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale and wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson from the practice squad to their active roster for Saturday's matchup with Buffalo.
Wilkerson and Bausby will serve as standard elevations for the Patriots, while Ekuale and Ross will serve as COVID-19 Replacements, as confirmed by Friday’s transaction wire.
Bausby’s elevation is probably the biggest surprise of the four elevations, considering he has yet to play a snap for the Patriots this year. The 28-year-old first joined the NFL after signing with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2015. Throughout his six-year career, he has been a member of the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders. Through 26 games and six starts, Bausby has compiled 60 tackles and eight pass deflections; taking 794 snaps on defense and 170 snaps on special teams. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound was a former Super Bowl LII champion with the Philadelphia Eagles. He also spent time in 2019 with the San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football (AAF); leading the team in pass breakups and interceptions. Bausby had worked out for the Patriots on Wednesday, October 20, but did not sign with the team until October 27.
Bausby’s elevation, along with that of Ross, all but confirms defensive backs Jalen Mills and Shaun Wade being out for Saturday. Both Mills and Wade were not activated from COVID-19/Reserve prior to Friday’s 4:00pm ET postseason deadline, and thus will remain on the list through Wild Card Weekend.
Kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m. ET from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.