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With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror and training camp set to kick off later this month, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 84 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie defensive lineman LaBryan Ray.
Name: LaBryan Ray
Position: Defensive tackle/Defensive end
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 65)
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-4, 285 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 RFA)
What is his experience? Entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent earlier this year, Ray naturally has only limited experience at the pro level. He did participate in offseason workouts, classroom study and mandatory minicamp, but has obviously not yet played in an actual game. In fact, based on the rules governing the offseason he has not even been fully confronted with NFL-caliber physicality yet. Of course, that does not mean he did not play plenty of football during his time at the University of Alabama.
A five-star recruit out of high school, Ray committed to join the Crimson Tide and started his college career in 2017. What followed was a five-year stint that saw him play some good football at times but also deal with several injuries. As a result of those, he appeared in just 44 out of a possible 70 games and never quite lived up to the potential he originally showed upon arriving in Tuscaloosa. In total, Ray registered a mere 76 combined tackles, six sacks and one forced fumble; he was part of two championship teams, though.
What did his 2021 season look like? Having missed a combined 16 games over the previous two seasons, Ray decided to stay in school for his redshirt senior campaign even after his graduation in December 2020. Based on his experience, he appeared set to fill a rotational role along the Crimson Tide’s defensive line. However, his season debut would have to wait until Week 3: Ray missed the first two games of the year versus Miami and Mercer because of a groin injury. He went on to appear in 13 straight games to close out the season, though.
Along the way, Ray posted some relatively unspectacular numbers while serving primarily as a role player at end in Alabama’s 3-4-based defense. He had 11 tackles, including three for a loss of yardage, as well as one sack — in Week 13 against New Mexico State — and four additional quarterback hits. He was not bad by any means, but again unable to live up to his five-star status coming out of high school. Additionally, Ray dislocated his left elbow in January and had to alter his pre-draft preparation because of the injury.
What is his projected role? Ray played several techniques along Alabama’s defensive line over the years, but he projects primarily between the 3 and 5 spots at the next level. As such, he would provide developmental and rotational depth behind the current top options at those positions such as Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise Jr. or Henry Anderson. Accordingly, Ray’s usage would strongly depend on packages and situations.
Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, he saw action all over the D-line at Alabama, aligning everywhere from the 0-tech spot on the nose to the 5-technique end position. Even though he has proven himself a flexible player from that perspective, Ray offers limited versatility as far as his usage is concerned: he was much more effective as a run defender rather than as a pass rusher in college, and will likely be more of an early-down player in the NFL.
What is his special teams value? Just like most other interior defensive linemen, Ray offers but limited special teams value. Realistically, he will be used exclusively as part of the blocking teams on field goal and extra point attempts; trying to either create an upfield rush or reach out over the line to get a hand on the ball. That said, his extensive injury history might lead to his special teams contributions being even more limited than that.
What is his salary cap situation? Ray signed a standard three-year free agency pact with the Patriots after going unselected in this year’s draft. As part of this deal carries a salary cap hit of $713,333 this season — one that is not big enough to qualify him for Top-51 status at the moment. The contract itself features a salary of $705,000, with $25,000 of it guaranteed, as well as a fully-guaranteed $8,333 signing bonus proration.
How safe is his roster spot? The Patriots will likely carry no more than six defensive linemen on the roster, and with only three of them locks to make the team — Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., Davon Godchaux — there is a realistic opportunity for Ray to make the team. At the end of the day, however, he is still a roster bubble player that will need to prove himself in training camp and preseason to make the cut.
One-sentence projection: Ray will see regular action during preseason but ultimately have to aim for the practice squad rather than the 53-man roster.