Ryan Izzo isn’t the most talented tight end. But he has been able to stay on the field this season.
That’s essentially the response Bill Belichick gave when asked Tuesday about Izzo, who’s been the New England Patriots’ No. 1 tight end by default through the team’s first nine games.
“Durability is more important than ability, and Ryan, I think, is a great example of that,” Belichick said. “The fact that he’s been out there has really given him a chance to improve, and he’s taken advantage of that and given us some good play at that position. Certainly, this has been his best year, but it’s also been his most durable year.”
After missing his entire rookie season in 2018 and being exiled to the inactive list midway through his underwhelming 2019 campaign, Izzo has been a staple in New England’s 2020 offense. He’s played 80.3 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, second-most among Patriots skill players behind wide receiver Damiere Byrd (92.4 percent).
Izzo hardly has left the field during the Patriots’ current two-game winning streak, logging 76 of 81 snaps (93.8 percent) against the New York Jets in Week 9 and 54 of 58 (93.1 percent) against the Baltimore Ravens this past Sunday despite being listed as questionable for both games with a hamstring injury.
That durability has prevented the Patriots’ tight end group from completely imploding, even if Izzo’s statistical output has not been particularly impressive. Among NFL tight ends, the 24-year-old ranks 42nd in receiving yards (134), 47th in targets (16) and tied for 49th in receptions (10). In Pro Football Focus’s player grades, he ranks 60th out of 68 qualified tight ends.
Patriots tight ends as a unit rank last in the NFL in receptions and targets and second-to-last in receiving yards.
Still, Izzo has been the only reliable member of this position group, save for fullback Jakob Johnson. Third-round draft picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene have combined for just one catch on one target for 8 yards this season, and both currently are on injured reserve.
Izzo had one 20-yard reception against Baltimore that set up the first of running back Rex Burkhead’s two touchdown catches.
“In football, the No. 1 thing is dependability and availability,” Belichick said. “A player that’s out there every day that can continue to work and improve and get better has a lot of value to the team, and Ryan’s been able to do that this year more so than the other years he’s been here.
“He’s always worked hard. He’s always been kind of a quiet kid that’s very diligent and works hard. But he’s had some, unfortunately, physical setbacks where he would be moving along and then miss some time and not really be able to have the on-the-field consistency that any player needs to improve and be successful.
“I think his training, his overall development physically has improved, and that’s been helpful for him in terms of maintaining his durability and sustaining the day after day grind of practices and preparation and games that has brought him this far.”
The Patriots supplemented their tight end group last week by claiming third-year pro Jordan Thomas off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals. Thomas was inactive against the Ravens but could make his New England debut this Sunday against the Houston Texans.