New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has never traded a future pick in the NFL Draft. He made an exception for Dalton Keene on Friday night.
So, what’s so special about Keene, a long-haired, mustachioed 21-year-old tight end who only caught 21 passes as a junior at Virginia Tech in 2019 before declaring early?
“Kind of an interesting guy, underclassman,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said on a video conference call Saturday morning. “Really played, essentially from day one, a three-year starter. Really had to kind of search for some things with him on tape. He took advantage of his opportunities. A couple of things that stood out were just some of his catch-and-run type plays. Good size, 6-4 and change, call it 255, 260 (pounds). Fairly athletic, tough kid, smart kid. Was asked to do a number of different things in their offense.”
NESN.com has been high on Keene ever since we put together our athletic fits chart for potential Patriots tight ends. Keene hit almost every mark for a Patriots drafted tight end. He also has good size, is competitive as a blocker, can play a number of different positions and showed some impressive ability to pick up yards after the catch, weaving through opposition defenses.
The Patriots liked him enough to trade completely out of the fourth round to get him.
“I’d say it’s not one particular thing,” Caserio said. “I think when you get to this point, there are players that I would say, especially in this round, this was a — pick players you want to have on your team and get into your program. So, however you need to do it, you go ahead and do it. I think as we kind of looked at the board, kind of projecting forward here a little bit, whether or not we actually were able to utilize all the picks, it’s a little bit similar to last year when we kind of traded up. I wouldn’t say it was for any particular reason other than sort of pick and resource allocation and trying to get players on the team that we thought made sense. I would say it was really more driven by that than any one particular thing.”
Keene is an interesting projection player because of his age and athleticism. Keene looks up to San Francisco 49ers All-Pro tight end George Kittle, and there are comparisons to be made between the two players.
Here are Keene’s measurables:
4.71-second 40-yard dash
1.62-second 10-yard split
7.07-second 3-cone drill
4.19-second short shuttle
34-inch vertical leap
10-feet, 5-inch broad jump
21 bench press reps
Compared to Kittle’s:
4.52-second 40-yard dash
1.59-second 10-yard split
7-second 3-cone drill
38.5-inch vertical leap
11-feet broad jump
18 bench press reps
Keene caught 59 passes for 748 yards with eight touchdowns and carried the ball 11 times for 33 yards in three seasons with the Hokies. He caught 21 passes — with just one drop — for 240 yards with five touchdowns last season.
Kittle had 48 catches for 737 yards with 10 touchdowns in four college seasons at Iowa. He caught just 22 passes for 314 yards with four touchdowns as a senior. He’s now perhaps the best tight end in the NFL.
Keene started out as a projected seventh-round pick but began rising up internet draft boards as the pre-draft process went along. The Patriots clearly see something in him since they made an unprecedented trade to move up to get the young tight end.
This isn’t known as a particularly strong tight end class, so it makes sense to grab a player with some upside in this group. Keene has that potential based on his age, athleticism and limited production. Clearly, the Patriots like Keene the person, as well.
When we first discovered Keene, we couldn’t figure out why a tight end as big and athletic as Keene was being projected so low, production be damned. He wound up going higher than projected top tight ends like Adam Trautman, who was drafted 105th overall, and Washington’s Hunter Bryant, FAU’s Harrison Bryant, Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins and Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam, all of whom are still available.
Keene will compete for a starting role with fellow third-round pick Devin Asiasi and veterans Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo.