FOXBORO -- If you were to take a look at the NFL's easily-identifiable Super Bowl contenders, who looks like they've made the most significant mid-season addition?
Let's leave out all the teams who are not yet mathematically eliminated, championship long shots, who got players back from injury lately. Chargers left tackle Russell Okung doesn't count. Neither does quarterback Nick Foles in Jacksonville.
It's a relatively short list.
The Saints getting Drew Brees healthy is probably the most sizable add given the amount of time he missed and what he means to that offense. Then it's Patrick Mahomes, whose absence was shorter, but whose impact will obviously be massive for the Chiefs when he returns.
After that? Take a look at the left tackle spot in New England.
Isaiah Wynn has the potential to be the most significant mid-season addition to a Super Bowl contender not named Brees or Mahomes. He's that important. There's a reason why Tom Brady openly pined for his second-year teammate back in mid-October.
"We have one [player] that we’re hoping can return from injury, Isaiah Wynn, who was our left tackle to start the year," Brady told Jim Gray on Westwood One Radio. "He’s working hard and progressing, and any time you get players back, it not only improves the depth of the team, but you get some youthful exuberance, as well.
"So any time you get players back from injury, I think it’s a benefit to the team . . . We’re certainly hoping Isaiah can come back at some point.”
Wynn is back at practice and is one of New England's two players who has been designated to return from injured reserve, along with N'Keal Harry. Wynn can't come back until the Week 12 tilt with the Cowboys, but when he does he has the ability to take an inconsistent Patriots attack to another level.
Look at what Josh McDaniels needs for the second half of their schedule. He needs help with a sputtering running game. He needs to keep Brady clean -- maybe more so than ever before. Wynn kills those two birds with one singular, 6-foot-2, 310-pound stone.
That's why Wynn could be a more critical acquisition than big names who have been traded like Mohamed Sanu to New England or Emmanuel Sanders to San Francisco or Jalen Ramsey in Los Angeles. The Niners getting tackle Joe Staley back from injury will be key for them, but their line has been fine without him. They average 4.5 yards per carry, and Jimmy Garoppolo has been pressured less than any quarterback in the NFL outside of Derek Carr.
The Patriots are 30th in the NFL in yards per carry (3.3), even after one of their best run-game performances of the season in Baltimore. Is some of that on the players carrying the football? Sure. But the offensive line carries a significant portion of the blame, as Dante Scarnecchia was willing to admit recently.
Working behind Wynn's replacement, Marshall Newhouse, hasn't helped Patriots backs. Coming into a full-time role when Wynn left a Week 2 win in Miami due to turf toe, Newhouse has graded out as the 49th-ranked run-blocking tackle in the league among players at that position with at least 50 percent playing time.
Where Wynn would be a noticeable upgrade over Newhouse is sheer athleticism. It's obvious on things like screen plays -- Wynn was sprinting out ahead of James White on one long catch-and-run against Pittsburgh -- but it shows up in the running game as well. His quickness off the ball should allow the Patriots to use their left tackle in ways they haven't with Newhouse.
Power at the line of scrimmage -- like what Trent Brown brought to the table through the course of the 2018 season -- isn't going to be Wynn's game, necessarily. But Wynn is explosive enough off the line to create movement against bigger players, as he did at times in short-yardage against Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward in his lone full game of action this season.
Is Wynn a panacea for what ails the Patriots running game? No. They won't all of a sudden become a top-three rushing offense upon his return. But for a team that is 20th in the NFL in rushing success rate on third or fourth down when they need three yards or fewer, his snap off the line should be a difference-maker.
Brady's protection in the passing game this season has likely been better than you thought. He's seen pressure on just 29.7 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. That's the fifth-lowest rate in the league.
But with Wynn in the mix, that number should get even better since Newhouse has been the team's primary offender when it comes to pass-protection letdowns. Newhouse has allowed 25 pressures at left tackle in eight games, which is ninth-most among all tackles, and his pass-blocking grade is 41st among tackles, per PFF.
Why is keeping Brady protected so important when he's been pressured relatively infrequently? Because the difference between Brady under pressure and Brady in a clean pocket this season is staggering.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brady has a 47.9 quarterback rating under pressure this season. That's his worst rating under pressure going back to when PFF starting recording that statistic in 2006. It's the fourth-worst number in the league this season.
Brady is also accurate on just 55.7 percent of his throws under pressure, per PFF, which is his worst percentage of the last decade. However, his 81.9 percent accuracy mark when kept clean is his second-best mark of the last 10 years.
By keeping Brady protected more often, which Wynn will do more efficiently than Newhouse, the Patriots will get the best version of Brady more frequently and see the worst of Brady less.
What stood out in watching Wynn's performance back in Week 1 is that it looks like he's already taken to one of the pillars of Scarnecchia's philosophy on pass-protection: It's an aggressive act, not a passive one.
Against the Steelers, Wynn could be seen taking the fight to speed-rusher Bud Dupree. For the majority of the game, Wynn was matched up with the young Steelers outside linebacker, and in his first game after missing all of last season due to a torn Achilles, Wynn's foot speed was up to the challenge.
Combine that athleticism with a brutish demeanor, and Scarnecchia has a promising left tackle on his hands.
Even in the play-action passing game -- where part of a lineman's job is to help sell the run-fake -- Wynn was noticeably hungry for contact in Week 1. Getting the running game going would certainly help the Patriots play-action game be more effective moving forward, but getting Wynn back should help as well.
The Patriots are a middle-of-the-pack play-action team at the moment. Brady's completion percentage off of play-action is just 0.6 points better than without play-action, placing him 22nd among quarterbacks, according to PFF. His yards-per-attempt differential is an improvement of 2.1 yards with play-action, on average. That's 14th among quarterbacks.
Dupree is in the middle of his best season with 6.0 sacks and on pace for 18 quarterback hits, but Wynn will face stouter pass-rushers moving forward. Houston's Whitney Mercilus, Kansas City's Frank Clark and Buffalo's Jerry Hughes all work primarily against left tackles, and they'll test the second-year player as he works his way back into game condition.
But if Wynn is healthy, he should be able to hold up. He'll certainly be an upgrade over his replacement in both the running and passing games, helping the Patriots find a new gear offensively as they chase Lombardi Trophy No. 7.
Outside of guys named Brees and Mahomes, there is no mid-season addition who has the potential to change the course of the NFL season the way Wynn does.
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