During his weekly appearance on WEEI’s “Ordway, Merloni & Fauria,” Bill Belichick was asked about the New England Patriots’ lack of production from the tight end position.
The coach’s response was telling.
“Overall, we need more production offensively, period,” Belichick said. “We only had 14 first downs (in Sunday’s 18-12 loss to the Denver Broncos). I think we probably had more production out of the tight end position in this game than we’ve had all year.”
That last part is both accurate and highly problematic for New England’s offense.
Ryan Izzo caught three passes on three targets for 38 yards against the Broncos, equaling his previous season total in the first category and nearly matching it in the third.
Third-round draft pick Devin Asiasi played a career-high 42.1 percent of offensive snaps — and saw his playing time increase after Izzo lost a third-quarter fumble — but still is waiting to receive his first NFL target.
Fellow third-rounder Dalton Keene again was inactive, sitting out as a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game. He has yet to make his Patriots debut.
Through five games, that trio has combined for six catches on 11 targets for 87 yards and no touchdowns — all by Izzo, who’s played 81.6 percent of offensive snaps thus far after being exiled from the gameday roster for the second half of 2019.
That’s a problem. And not a new one.
Last season — New England’s first without Rob Gronkowski — the Patriots’ tight end group of Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Izzo and, briefly, Eric Tomlinson ranked dead last in the NFL in receptions.
Six weeks into the 2020 campaign, this current group ranks … dead last in the NFL in receptions.
Twelve teams have 30 or more. All but seven have 20-plus. Thirty-one of the 32 have at least 10. The Patriots have six.
Receptions by tight ends this season:
Since Gronkowski played his final game in a Patriots uniform in Super Bowl LIII, New England tight ends have caught more than three passes just once (four, by Watson in Week 9 last season) and surpassed 50 receiving yards just once (52, by Watson in Week 11). They’ve scored just two touchdowns in 22 games.
If the Patriots want to maintain their long-held status as an AFC contender, they need more from this unit, especially since their wide receivers haven’t looked capable of carrying their passing attack.
What’s the fix? Some contributions from their two rookies would be a good start.
Tight end is one of the more difficult positions to learn in the NFL, and Asiasi and Keene shouldn’t have been expected to immediately become the 2020 version of Gronk and Aaron Hernandez, especially with no spring practice or preseason games. But the Patriots need to start getting at least some production out of these players, both of whom they traded up to select.
Belichick declined to offer specifics Monday when asked about Asiasi, who looked like the more pro-ready prospect coming out of Chip Kelly’s UCLA scheme.
“I think all of our young players are getting better,” Belichick said on WEEI. “We’ll take it game by game, week by week and see how it goes.”
If Asiasi and/or Keene isn’t ready to be involved in the passing game, then New England should acquire a veteran tight end ahead of the Nov. 3 trade deadline. David Njoku, who reportedly wants out of Cleveland, is one option.