The New England Patriots found a versatile player in Brandon LaFell.
The recently signed wide receiver didn’t only play outside and in the slot with the Carolina Panthers, he also was a reserve tight end.
“If we ever got in a situation in a passing down where something happened to (Panthers tight end) Greg Olsen, (LaFell) could go in and play the Y for us, which meant he either had to block, check-release or go into routes immediately, so he’s a very smart guy,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera told The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin on Wednesday at the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Aaron Hernandez used to play the “Y” for the Patriots before he was released and jailed. LaFell is the same height as Hernandez and 35 pounds lighter, but they had similar athleticism coming out of college in 2010.
LaFell ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash, 1.55-second 10-yard split, 6.81-second three-cone drill and 4.23-second 20-yard shuttle with a 9-foot-7 broad jump and 36-inch vertical leap. Hernandez ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash, 1.65-second 10-yard split, 6.83-second three-cone drill and 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle with a 9-foot-3 broad jump and 33-inch vertical leap.
LaFell isn’t the same type of matchup nightmare that Hernandez was because of a lack of strength. However, LaFell has the same ability to line up outside, in the slot and in the “flex” tight end role, where the Panthers used him.
“Very intelligent football player. He really is,” Rivera said. “He’ll know all the wide receiver positions for you guys. He played all of our wide receiver positions, plus he knew the tight end position.”
LaFell also is an accomplished blocker at wide receiver, though those skills likely wouldn’t translate to tight end. The Panthers chose not to re-sign LaFell because they were low in salary-cap room.
The Patriots likely wouldn’t use LaFell in a tight end role unless it was absolutely necessary. But their ability to move LaFell around will be valuable in 2014.