Training camp is less than two weeks away and we’re starting to wrap up our positional preview excerpts from this year’s season preview book. With just a few position groups to go, today we’re taking a look at the tight ends.
This is one of the few areas where there will be a significant personnel change from 2016, with Dwayne Allen being swapped in for Martellus Bennett. Bennett’s ability to ably fill in for Rob Gronkowski was one of the big factors in getting the Pats their fifth Super Bowl.
Many pundits tried to sell us that without Gronk the Pats just weren’t dynamic enough to win the big one, but Bennett helped prove that theory wrong.
If Gronk plays the entire season it won’t really matter all that much how well Allen assimilates, but Belichick has had high praise for the former Colt so it will be interesting to see his role in the offense, which I expect to be a versatile one.
There could also be a roster spot to be had by a third tight end, a job that would have to be won in training camp. Draft weekend trade acquisition James O’Shaughnessy could be a favorite along with Matt Lengel, who was acquired and played some snaps after Gronk was lost in 2016.
Let’s take a closer look at the tight ends.
Rob Gronkowski – Gronk was the only major injury casualty of the 2016 and it still didn’t keep the Pats from the Super Bowl. A big part of that was having Martellus Bennett. Now Gronk looks nearly fully recovered from the back injury that ended his season and all reports are that he’ll be good to go for 2017. Always the center of attention, Gronk could use a bounce back season. The Patriots restructured his deal, giving him the chance to be the highest paid tight end in the league if he stays healthy. Those kind of incentives are good for the team and the player, especially one like Gronk. 2017 feels like it could determine the trajectory for the rest of his career.
Dwayne Allen – The Patriots tabbed Allen to replace Martellus Bennett via trade with the Colts. Belichick had praised Allen’s blocking prowess previously and he has some versatility to move around the formation, both as an in-line tight end and H-back. With Gronk’s health history, the second tight end is a vital role. Allen doesn’t have to be electric but if he’s all-around solid and can chip in with a couple key catches here and there it will be all the Pats need. With three years left on his deal he should be a key component going forward. His six touchdowns in 2016 look appealing as he should draw favorable matchups.
Matt Lengel – Lengel was signed off of the Bengals’ practice squad in early November after injuries to Gronk and Greg Scruggs left the Pats thin. He’d go on to catch just two passes, one of which was a touchdown. With a year in the system under his belt and great size (6’7”, 265) Lengel is a player to watch this preseason. The Pats could keep three tight ends and that third spot is very much up in the air.
James O’Shaughnessy – The Patriots traded for O’Shaughnessy during the draft, bringing him over from the Chiefs for a fifth round pick. Entering his third season, the tight end has just eight career catches, but he’s a lighter “move” tight end, a spot of limited depth on the roster, so that could give him an outside shot at making the team.
Sam Cotton – An undrafted rookie out of Nebraska, Cotton caught 17 passes in four seasons. Cotton’s 6.87-second three-cone drill would’ve ranked second among tight ends in Indianapolis for this year’s combine. His 127-inch broad jump would’ve been fourth, and his 35.5-inch vertical would’ve been sixth. We’ll see how that athleticism translates to the NFL.
Jacob Hollister – An undrafted rookie out of Wyoming, the Patriots also signed his twin brother Cody, a wide receiver. Jacob is a move tight end who made his living stretching the seam against defenses. Adding strength and working on his blocking will be his key to having an NFL career, but his athleticism and route running are pro quality.