FOXBORO, Mass. — Nothing raises a rookie’s stock in New England like a breakout performance in a Patriots preseason game. So, needless to say, Patriots fans are pretty excited about undrafted tight end Jacob Hollister after he gashed the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense for 116 yards Thursday night.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick isn’t ready to crown Hollister as the second coming of Mark Bavaro just yet.
“Jacob’s had a good camp, long way to go,” Belichick told reporters Tuesday before Patriots joint practices with the Houston Texans in West Virginia. “He’s making improvements — a lot of things he needs to work on. But he’s had some opportunities to make some plays. He’s shown some toughness and ability to hang onto the ball in critical situations. But he’s got a long way to go.”
Hollister’s ability to catch the ball in traffic — or even a head-on collision — was impressive against the Jaguars. Jacksonville was flagged for big hits on Hollister twice Thursday night, but he held onto the ball despite taking hard shots to the head and body.
Surprisingly, Hollister actually stood out more against the Jaguars than he has in training camp, when he wasn’t targeted heavily by Patriots quarterbacks. Perhaps his skill-set translates more to a physical game setting, or maybe the Jaguars’ backup defenders aren’t quite on par with the Patriots’ defense.
Not to toot our own horn, but NESN.com was quite high on Hollister from the time he was signed by the Patriots because of his ability to get open, make contested catches and earn extra yards after the catch. Hollister showed those same traits Thursday night, getting wide open, hauling in the ball while being hit and hurdling over a defender.
The Patriots gave Hollister $90,000 in guaranteed money, so it’s obvious they’re quite smitten with the Wyoming product. He’s competing for the No. 3 tight end role in the Patriots’ offense with James O’Shaughnessy, Sam Cotton and Matt Lengel. It’s possible the Patriots could even carry a fourth tight end if they like Hollister enough. O’Shaughnessy is the more known commodity on special teams, but Hollister did receive six snaps in the kicking game in his preseason debut.
Another thing worth noting is the Patriots would take a greater cap hit ($90,000) in cutting Hollister than they would in waiving O’Shaughnessy (zilch). Hollister also costs less against the cap than O’Shaughnessy.
Though it’s sometimes overblown, there would be risk in waiving Hollister in hopes of getting him onto the practice squad. His $90,000 in guaranteed money means other teams were interested in him after going undrafted. The Patriots had three players claimed off waivers after 2016 cutdowns — linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and cornerbacks Daryl Roberts and Cre’von LeBlanc.
Though Hollister still has “a long way to go,” it was encouraging to see his college skills translate into the NFL preseason. Now, as the Patriots cliche goes, Hollister just needs to keep getting better every day.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images