Patriots Mailbag: Hunter Henry Or Jonnu Smith At Tight End?

The Patriots have multiple options to upgrade their tight end corps


Jan 8, 2021

Poor Nick Caserio. The longtime New England Patriots director of player personnel finally accepted a job as general manager with the Texans, and now his hiring process has ticked off Houston’s most important player.

It’s unclear if Texans ownership actually promised Deshaun Watson that he’d be involved in the hiring process for a general manager and head coach, but the quarterback reportedly is unhappy that Houston hired Caserio without his input.

The Texans are poorly run, but it’s definitely not out of the ordinary for ownership to pick a general manager without a player’s say even if said player just signed a $156 million contract extension.

Patriots fans shouldn’t suddenly get excited and think this means New England will land Watson. The Patriots are more than a quarterback away from competing, and other teams will have much more appealing offers if the situation evolves into a trade before March.

It also wouldn’t exactly be the best look for Caserio to get hired and immediately trade away his franchise quarterback to his former team. Then again, with former Patriots character coach Jack Easterby, who’s now Houston’s executive vice president of football operations, involved, anything is possible.

Watch above and read below for this week’s mailbag. Thanks again for sending in your questions.

Would you rather have Jonnu Smith? Or Hunter Henry?

Whichever player is the cheaper option to spread cap space out and fill needs at other positions.

Hunter Henry is probably the better player. In four seasons (he missed 2018 with a torn ACL), he’s caught 196 passes for 2,322 yards with 21 touchdowns.

Smith has 114 catches for 1,302 yards with 16 touchdowns in four seasons. Smith has also added six carries for 82 yards with a touchdown.

PFF has graded Henry as the better blocker throughout his career, but both players are competitive in that aspect of their games and big enough to get in the way of defenders.

Here are both players’ pre-draft measureables:

250 pounds
4.68-second 40-yard dash
1.60-second 10-yard split
7.16-second 3-cone drill
4.41-second short shuttle
31.5-inch vertical leap
9-feet, 5-inch broad jump
21 bench press reps of 225 pounds

248 pounds
4.62-second 40-yard dash
1.56-second 10-yard split
7.43-second 3-cone drill
4.18-second short shuttle
38-inch vertical leap
10-feet, 6-inch broad jump
22 bench press reps of 225 pounds

Smith is the slightly better athlete.

Here’s what Belichick had to say about Henry this season:

“Henry continues to be a complete and very, very good football player for them. Henry’s really been a great player. I’ve watched him pretty much his whole career. He started at Pulaski Academy down in Little Rock, played for Coach (Kevin) Kelly down there. He had a great career there, went to Arkansas and had a great career at Arkansas. Went to the Chargers and with (Virgil) Green out, he’s really played the Y role this year and showed good ability to block, catch. He runs a variety of routes. He’s come back off the injury and has been a very, very productive player for them, along with all their other good skill players. But, he’s done a good job for them in a running game, as well as the passing game.

And Smith last year:

“He’s just a really good tight end. He can do a lot of things: blocks well, runs well, is a good receiver. I mean, hell, they played him at tailback. He looked pretty good back there. So, he’s a very athletic player, hard to tackle, catches the ball well. He’s great after the catch — probably the best in the league. I mean, I can’t imagine anybody better than him after the catch. No, he looks like a tight end to me. And a good one.”

So, unless Belichick is blowing smoke, he likes both players quite a bit. I’d say he probably prefers Henry, but if the Los Angeles Chargers franchise him, then Smith would be a great second choice.

Get WR is weak on this squad. You think Better off with 2-3 legit Te’s Instead?
Success the Browns and Vikings and even Pats have had.
Issues with WR, why Not Te’s instead.
Helps make offense Flexible.
Makes WR less of a Need, In a sense they will need Less of them.

As I mentioned in my mailbag video (watch above), it makes a ton of sense to start utilizing two tight ends with the way the Patriots’ offense is currently constructed with Damien Harris and Sony Michel at running back.

In an ideal world, they would go back to the early 2010s and go heavy on offensive with 12 personnel and one running back, two wide receivers and two tight ends on the field. One of those tight ends would be either Devin Asiasi or Dalton Keene, and the other could be Henry, Smith or a rookie like Kyle Pitts or Pat Freiermuth.

One other player worth mentioning is Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan, who excelled working with QB Aaron Rodgers this season. Tonyan, a converted quarterback and wide receiver out of Indiana State, will be a restricted free agent. If the Packers slap a second-round tender on him, would the Patriots be willing to make a move?

With the possibility of Patrick Chung coming back, what role do you think Phillips and Dugger will play since they both have been playing a lot of linebacker

That’s a really good question since all three players essentially play the same role of strong safety.

If the Patriots keep heavily utilizing dime and quarters defensive personnel packages, then there’s room for all three to stay on the field with one at linebacker (Phillips), one at strong safety (Dugger) and another in the slot (Chung). But if the Patriots add some quality starters at linebacker, then one of the safeties, maybe Phillips, could be an odd-man-out and play more special teams in 2021.

Help me, Doug. Can’t tell you how many fans went after Cam’s play saying, “look what Tom did with pretty much the same roster last season. We went to the playoffs”. I say that the roster changed, there was no preseason, and although Cam made mistakes, he did ok. Am I wrong?

You’re not wrong. Still, I think ultimately it’s probably in New England and Newton’s best interests to divorce this offseason. But to say that Newton went 7-9 with the same team that Brady led to a 12-4 record is patently false.

The 2020 Patriots gained David Andrews, Damiere Byrd, Michael Onwenu, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips, among others, but lost Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, Ted Karras and Elandon Roberts, among others. Wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Stephon Gilmore also missed significant time this season with injuries.

The Patriots have no real success bringing in FA WRs and they have a long history of not bringing drafted players into the mix right away…so this is going to take a few years isn’t it?

Is that actually true about veteran wide receivers?

Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks all acclimated very quickly. Brandon LaFell and Chris Hogan won Super Bowls as No. 2 receivers. Brandon Lloyd was solid in 2012. Josh Gordon had over 1,000 yards in 17 games. Damiere Byrd had his best NFL season in 2020.

Chad Ochocinco definitely didn’t work out. Mohamed Sanu couldn’t catch on midway through the 2019 season and had lost a step by training camp. Players similarly at the end of their careers like Joey Galloway, Torry Holt, Nate Washington and Reggie Wayne either struggled to acclimate or were too old by the time they landed in Foxboro. Antonio Brown had other issues.

Low-end free-agent receivers certainly have struggled. But the Patriots have had success adding veteran receivers through the years if they have a full offseason to adjust. And it’s usually very obvious right away when a guy won’t pan out.

I wouldn’t be too concerned if the Patriots sign a player like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay or Juju Smith-Schuster.

Let’s go rapid fire.

Does Belichick need to have more players on his board entering the draft? I remember talk they the large number of late trade-ups was because they were worried they’d run out of players on their board before the draft ended. #MailDoug

Probably, but I also can’t really see him changing his ways at this point. So, shrug.

Realistically, who would you like to see at QB next season? #MailDoug

A veteran quarterback, whether that’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Carson Wentz, Jacoby Brissett, Newton or Ryan Fitzpatrick, plus a rookie. The Patriots need a bridge option, but they also need to keep taking shots at their quarterback of the future.

Assuming he actually gets moved, what’s more likely for 2021?

Garoppolo or Watson?
Jimmy G.

Pats have an obvious need at DT and ILB. Which one is Bill more likely to address in the draft?

Defensive tackle. They have some potential pieces at linebacker in Josh Uche, Chase Winovich and Anfernee Jennings. Plus, Dont’a Hightower is under contract for 2021.

Do you think we will address Wr through the draft or free agency? Both have lots of options #MailDoug

Free agency.

Is there any realistic scenario where they get Darnold. And if so what would the cost be.

Are we sure Sam Darnold is significantly better than Jarrett Stidham? Like 100-percent positive?


Ready to watch some playoffs. My friends and I did a best-ball fantasy draft where the person with most cumulative points after the Super Bowl wins, and I wound up with:

QB Josh Allen
RB James Conner
RB Zack Moss
WR Stefon Diggs
WR Terry McClaurin
TE Robert Tonyan
FLEX David Montgomery
FLEX DeMarcus Robinson

I wanted to make sure I got a good tight end, so I might have overdrafted Tonyan. We’ll see where we wind up.

Draft Doug is back Face with look of triumph who’s your Dalton Keene equivalent, the mid round guy you want the most?

Ask me after the NFL Scouting Combine.

What do you put the odds at McDaniels leaving and who would replace him? #maildoug

Extremely slim. He’s received no interest.

And I don’t know. Maybe Nick Caley, Adam Gase or Bill O’Brien?

Am the only person that thinks Patriots will be good next year? We act like they need Pro bowlers at every position. Need a QB- priority and WR (s) like every team in NFL. We have the best coach. Pats will be fine ? No?#MailDoug

The Patriots can absolutely be good next year. They went 7-9 and have a ton of salary cap room to improve their team. Depending on how New England spends that cap space, they can make the playoffs.

Give a probability to each of the following scenarios for next year’s QB room:
1) 1 or more current QBs + McDaniels
2) 1 or more current QBs but no McDaniels
3) McDaniels but none of the current QBs
4) No current QBs + No McDaniels

I’d rank those: 1, 3, 2, 4.

Thumbnail photo via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports Images
Boston Bruins Center Patrice Bergeron And Defenseman Brandon Carlo
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