Hidden Patriots: New England Has Complete Tight End Waiting In The Wings

It’s a testament to the roster construction abilities of Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio that the New England Patriots were able to win Super Bowl LIII despite the disaster of their 2018 NFL Draft class.

The Patriots’ nine-man draft class played a grand total of 27 games and 677 snaps. Only running back Sony Michel, cornerback Keion Crossen and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley appeared in games.

One of six draft picks who didn’t was tight end Ryan Izzo, who was placed on injured reserve one day after initial roster cuts. The Patriots ended Izzo’s season to make room for wide receivers Chad Hansen and Amara Darboh, both of whom were claimed off waivers. If another team higher on the pecking order had claimed Hansen or Darboh, it’s possible Izzo would have played during the 2018 season.

The 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end only appeared in two preseason games with the Patriots, catching three passes for 15 yards. Pro Football Focus graded Izzo positively as a run blocker in 56 total snaps.

He caught 54 passes for 761 yards with six touchdowns in four college seasons. He ran a 4.86-second 40-yard dash with a 1.69-second 10-yard split, 7.15-second 3-cone drill, 4.43-second short shuttle, 33-inch vertical leap, 9-foot, 2-inch broad jump and 18 bench press reps of 225 pounds during pre-draft testing.

If Izzo can stay healthy before next season, he could be a potential replacement for Dwayne Allen as a blocking tight end with some receiving skills. Izzo isn’t an elite athlete, and he’ll probably never come close to registering a 1,000-yard season, but his blocking skills should allow him to stick around in 2019 as long as the Patriots don’t otherwise load up at the position.

Izzo’s chances of making the 2019 roster obviously improve if starter Rob Gronkowski elects to retire.

Allen likely will be a cap casualty before the 2019 season if he doesn’t agree to a significant pay cut. He’s due over $7.3 million next season, and he caught just three passes for 27 yards in 2018. Izzo’s cap hit is more than 14 times less at $512,267, and he should presumably be a better receiving target, though he’s not as much of a proven commodity as a blocker.

As of now, Izzo appears to have an inside shot at a roster spot in his second season. The Patriots currently have Izzo, Gronkowski, Allen, Jacob Hollister and Stephen Anderson at the position. The key for Izzo is now staying healthy over the next seven months.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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