New England Patriots: Why tight end depth is still an area of concern

CARSON, CA - OCTOBER 22: Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers gets tackled after his catch by Todd Davis #51 of the Denver Broncos at StubHub Center on October 22, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - OCTOBER 22: Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers gets tackled after his catch by Todd Davis #51 of the Denver Broncos at StubHub Center on October 22, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Any delusions that the New England Patriots have super depth at the tight end position should be shelved immediately, they aren’t accurate.

Listening to even astute observers of the red, white, blue, and silver suggesting that any tight end on the team last year will contribute is frankly, unrealistic. They won’t.

Let’s put this as simply as possible. If a tight end last season couldn’t break into the Patriots starting offense and succeed, they have no chance to do so this season. None.

So let’s take a look at the tight ends last season and what the Patriots have this season and evaluate the situations.

Evaluation of the New England Patriots tight ends in 2020 and 2021

The evaluation of the New England Patriots tight ends in 2020 is not going to be a very long or involved one. In sum, they were totally ineffective.

Now, Matt LaCosse, perhaps the best of the bunch in 2020 didn’t play a game. The best tight end, production-wise was Ryan Izzo with 13 catches.

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He was so impressive, he was shipped out to Houston forthwith for about nothing.

Next, we had two tight ends for whom the Patriots invested heavily and moved up for in the 2020 NFL Draft. They were both third-round picks and neither did, well, anything at all.

The two high draft picks were Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. The Patriots traded up for both and gave up a wealth of picks to get these players. To put it kindly, they both underperformed.

Asiasi caught two passes last season. Keene caught three. To say that they underperformed is an understatement. They did essentially nothing at all.

The fact is this, with the atrocious state of the Patriots’ tight end room last season, if at least one, if not both of the rookie third-round picks could perform, then the situation was, well hopeless.

Look, this writer is not relishing in that fact. He wrote that they should depend on these rookies. OUCH! The fact is, they can’t play.

The only way that one or both of these players is on the 53-man roster is that they were third-round picks, traded up for picks, and it would embarrass Bill Belichick if they were released.

That’s the only possible reason.

Now, for the good news for the New England Patriots at tight end

So, that was the not-so-good news at tight end. But, alas, there is some very good news. In the offseason, majordomo Bill Belichick acknowledged his gaffes in drafting Asiasi and Keene.

He did this not by his words, but by his actions. He went hard and heavy into the free-agent market and got two really good players.

He first landed Jonnu Smith from Tennessee (hello Mike Vrable!). Smith can play. Smith caught 41 with eight touchdowns. Huzzah! They have a tight end who can actually catch the ball!

Then, as a shock to Patriots Nation and everyone else who follows the NFL, the Patriots struck again and also signed Hunter Henry from the Chargers.

Now, signing one tight end in free agency was a total surprise. Signing two constitutes a bombshell offensive. Doesn’t happen in New England, or didn’t. But in this case, it did.

Now, Henry is even better than Smith, at least in catches. He caught 60 last season with four touchdowns. That’s 60, which individually dwarfs last year’s whole group’s total substantially.

The total production of Smith and Henry last season, 101 catches with 12 touchdowns for the new TE’s, versus 18 catches and one touchdown for last year’s crew.

Hmmm. They blamed Cam Newton. Don’t agree. Don’t agree at all.

New England Patriots tight ends in 2021

So, with all that in mind, we have the 2021 season looming. Cam Newton will have two top (both in ESPN’s top 10) tight ends on hand. Huzzah! A whole lot better than in 2020.

Recently, it was suggested here that the Patriots should add another tight end to the room, even if a one-dimensional type, i.e. either a blocker or pass-catcher. Whatever. That need is still there.

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It should be met and a new tight end should be added in pre-season since both Smith and Henry have been dinged up in their careers.

The need is there and the current backups are not the answer. But, that notwithstanding, the New England Patriots now have two top tight ends. Last season they had none. That has to be a good thing.

Hopefully, the Patriots will do the right thing and add that serviceable third tight end before the season begins. We’ll see. It will mean cutting ties with past mistakes. So be it.

But that’s what a team that looks to win does. The past is the past and those mistakes are done with. Move forward and win. We’ll see what happens. I like the team’s chances.