Five players will enter Patriots training camp competing for New England’s third tight end role. Four men could leave.
Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen are locks for the Patriots’ 53-man roster, leaving rookie Jacob Hollister, Rob Housler, Matt Lengel, James O’Shaughnessy and Michael Williams battling for one or maybe two spots.
O’Shaughnessy likely enters the offseason training program as the favorite to land that final spot. The Patriots traded a fifth-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for O’Shaughnessy and a sixth-round pick. He has just eight career receptions for 86 yards, but he’s a special-teams stud. And his athleticism gives him upside as a receiver.
Lengel played six regular season games in 2016 with the Patriots and was active in all three postseason games. He caught just two passes for 22 yards but is more known for his blocking than his receiving skills.
Williams, acquired from the Detroit Lions in 2015 for a seventh-round pick, also is a blocking specialist. He played in 15 games, starting nine, in 2015 and caught three passes for 26 yards. He missed 2016 with a torn ACL suffered before the season.
The Patriots might be more apt to carry a more athletic pass-catcher rather than a blocker because they just drafted two athletic offensive tackles who could play as blocking tight ends in 2017. They also have Cameron Fleming who manned that tight end/tackle role in 2016. Hollister is even more athletic than O’Shaughnessy and showed off plenty of pass-catching upside during his college career at Wyoming. He’s undersized at 6-foot-4, 239 pounds, but he caught 32 passes for 515 yards with seven touchdowns as a senior. He has the speed to play on special teams, as well.
Housler, who might be the most athletic of the bunch, sat out the 2016 season after being cut by the Chicago Bears. He has 109 career receptions for 1,166 yards with one touchdown and was added as a futures signing in January. The highest hope for Housler is he winds up being the next Dion Lewis, who comes out of nowhere as a former future (it makes sense, trust me) signing. Chances are slim.
The Patriots could elect to keep one player on their 53-man roster and another one or two on the practice squad. O’Shaughnessy, Lengel and Hollister all have practice squad eligibility. It likely would be easiest to slip Lengel onto the practice squad since the Patriots had to trade for O’Shaughnessy, and they gave Hollister $90,000 guaranteed as an undrafted free agent, which shows that other teams were interested in bringing him on board. The Patriots signed Lengel off the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad last season.
While O’Shaughnessy is the favorite to play behind Gronkowski and Allen, this competition is wide open. The Patriots only moved down in the draft to acquire O’Shaughnessy, so they didn’t give up much to bring him on board.
The competition will start in two weeks when organized team activities begin. They’re non-padded practices so we won’t see much blocking, but the receivers can start to set themselves apart in the passing camp.
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