It’s time for the New England Patriots to stop ignoring their fairly glaring need at tight end.
Since selecting Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Patriots have taken just three tight ends in the last nine drafts. And none of those players — Lee Smith, A.J. Derby and Ryan Izzo — were selected before the fifth round. The Patriots took 11 tight ends in head coach Bill Belichick’s first 11 drafts.
The Patriots have doubled up on tight ends three times since Belichick became head coach in 2000. On all three of those occasions, the Patriots have taken one bigger tight end over 250 pounds and one smaller one that was 245 pounds or lighter. The bigger player has always come off the board first.
Here’s the Patriots’ entire tight end draft history:
As you can see above, the Patriots typically draft tight ends with better than league average 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, short shuttle, vertical leap and bench press measurables. They seem to value height, weight, broad jump, arm length and hand size less than those other measurables. The Patriots are most picky when it comes to the 3-cone drill and short shuttle.
Here are the tight ends in this year’s draft who were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and their testing numbers:
We highlighted each measurable in green if it was better than the average Patriots drafted tight end. We highlighted it in red if the Patriots have never drafted a tight end with that poor of a testing number. We added up the greens and subtracted the reds for the number at the far right.
So, per this fairly inexact science, Adam Trautman and Dalton Keene are the Patriots’ best fits based purely on measurables. Albert Okwuegbunam probably would have equaled or surpassed Trautman and Keene if he had competed in the 3-cone, short shuttle, vertical leap, broad jump and bench press. Cole Kmet, Brycen Hopkins, Devin Asiasi and Okwuegbunam all rate behind Trautman and Keene.
Trautman, a second- or third-round prospect, has been the tight end most frequently linked to the Patriots because of his combination of size, athleticism and blocking ability.
Keene is more of a sleeper, but he too has a nice combination of size and athletic ability. He also played some fullback and H-back at Virginia Tech.
Okwuegbunam is a third-round prospect who scored 23 touchdowns in three seasons at Missouri, and he’s big enough to get in the way as a blocker.
Kmet is considered the top tight end in the draft as a second-round pick. A slow 3-cone time probably wouldn’t preclude the Patriots from taking him, but it is a bit of a red flag considering the Patriots’ draft history. Only three tight ends — Trautman, Keene and Charlie Taumoepeau — ace the Patriots’ 3-cone test.
Sullivan, a former college wide receiver, is an intriguing option, but he fails the 3-cone and short shuttle metrics.
Hunter and Harrison Bryant (no relation) and Thaddeus Moss also have been popular picks for the Patriots. Hunter Bryant is known as a more athletic option, but he didn’t test that way. Harrison Bryant was super productive at Florida Atlantic, but he’s only better than the average Patriots tight end in height, 40-yard dash and 10-yard split. Moss didn’t test at the combine, and his pro day was canceled. We’ll never know his accurate testing numbers.
The Patriots could pretty easily double up at the tight end position if they trade down from their first-round pick into the second round. There, they could grab Trautman and then wait until the fourth or fifth round to take Keene. The Patriots also could wait until the third round to get Okwuegbunam and then still take Keene or someone like Asiasi later in the draft.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images