FOXBORO, Mass. — Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce might be the two most talented tight ends in the NFL. In the past year, James O’Shaughnessy has had the opportunity to play behind both of them.
O’Shaughnessy was traded from the Kansas City Chiefs to the New England Patriots during the 2017 NFL Draft, moving from a tight end group led by Kelce, a first-team All-Pro last season, to one spearheaded by Gronkowski, a four-time All-Pro and arguably the league’s most dominant offensive player.
“They’re both great guys,” the 25-year-old O’Shaughnessy said Monday at Gillette Stadium. “Both heck of tight ends. I can’t say enough about both of them helping me out through my early years in my career. I learned a lot from Travis, and I’m learning a lot from Gronk, so I’ve been very fortunate to have those two as my leaders early in my career.”
While Kelce and Gronkowski are elite pass-catching threats (they have four 1,000-yard receiving seasons between them), O’Shaughnessy has yet to contribute much on the offensive side of the ball in his NFL career. In his two seasons in Kansas City, he caught a mere eight passes for 87 yards, including just two for negative-1 yard in 2016.
O’Shaughnessy did, however, play a major role in the kicking game as an NFL sophomore, logging 287 special teams snaps last season and recording eight tackles.
“As a tight end, you’re asked to do a lot of different things, whether it be in the passing game, blocking, special teams,” said O’Shaughnessy, who called the Patriots “an extremely tight end-friendly team.” “So my goal is just to keep improving in every facet. I like to think I can contribute in a variety of different ways, and it’s up to the coaches to choose how they want to do that.”
O’Shaughnessy is not guaranteed a roster spot as the Patriots enter Week 3 of the preseason. He currently is battling Jacob Hollister, Matt Lengel and Sam Cotton for the third spot on the tight end depth chart behind Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen.
After missing New England’s exhibition opener with an injury, O’Shaughnessy caught five passes on six targets for 41 yards Saturday in a loss to the Houston Texans, earning a shout-out from Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The Illinois State product fumbled once, but the Texans were unable to recover before the ball rolled out of bounds.
Hollister, O’Shaughnessy’s top competition for the third tight end spot, had performed well the previous week, surpassing 100 receiving yards in a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The undrafted rookie remains a more likely practice squad candidate, though, with O’Shaughnessy looking like the favorite to stick around on the 53-man roster.
If he does, he’ll see plenty of familiar faces in Week 1. The Patriots open the regular season against the Chiefs on Thursday, Sept. 7.
“Believe me, I think we all know,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Especially myself. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be the first game, Thursday night. I couldn’t ask for a better first game with the Patriots.”
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images