FOXBORO, Mass. — Rob Gronkowski is on his way to another historically great season, but he’s not the only New England Patriots tight end standing out this season.
Michael Williams, who was acquired from the Detroit Lions for a 2017 seventh-round draft pick, has been one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL this season, and Scott Chandler has provided the Patriots with another big body who can catch intermediate passes down the sideline. Head coach Bill Belichick raved about the flexibility his tight ends give the Patriots’ offense.
“Our tight ends have really taken on a well-rounded role in everything — running game, pass protection, pass patterns, long, short, inside, outside kind of thing,” Belichick said Wednesday. “It’s a pretty versatile group. Each player kind of has his own strengths and weaknesses, but as a group, they’ve all been involved in the running game, been involved in the passing game, been involved in protection.
“You try not to become too overly predictable on who’s going to do what to the defense. It’s definitely given us some versatility offensively in the ability to create some different matchups or attack different parts of the defense because of their ability to do different things. It’s been good.”
Chandler has 12 catches on 18 targets for 136 yards with one touchdown, while Williams, who’s listed at 6-foot-6, 304 pounds, has two catches for 19 yards. One would assume Williams, who played offensive tackle for the Lions in 2013 and 2014, only would be used as a blocker, but he had 51 catches for 503 yards and seven touchdowns in four seasons in college at Alabama, so he provides receiving skills, too, despite limited athleticism.
The tight ends’ receiving skills have been most important to the Patriots offense’s success this year, but they’ve also been valuable in assisting a banged-up offensive line in both run and pass blocking. Gronkowski, who’s on pace for 88 catches on 136 targets for 1,386 yards with 14 touchdowns, sometimes will surprise defenses by staying in to block when Brady drops back to pass.
The Patriots have chosen to carry just two healthy offensive tackles into their past three games since Marcus Cannon suffered a toe injury. They’re afforded that luxury because, in a pinch, Williams could slide over to the offensive line.
This is the deepest group of tight ends the Patriots have had since 2012, and they might have to step up even more now that pass-catching back Dion Lewis was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Thumbnail photo via Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Oct 18, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) and tight end Scott Chandler (88) celebrate a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in the second half during the NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports