So, what was up with Patriots tight ends this season?
New England selected both Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In the case of Keene, the Patriots executed an unprecedented Bill Belichick-era trade to move up for the Virginia Tech product. Expectations were (relatively) tempered for the youngsters, given the notorious intricacies of the Patriots offense, but the duo, along with Ryan Izzo, nevertheless were expected to provide something in 2020.
Instead, the Patriots essentially got nothing from the tight end position. Izzo was a below average receiver and even worse blocker, and Asiasi and Keene appeared in a combined 15 games. Asiasi’s only two catches came in Week 17, when he also caught his first touchdown, whereas Keene caught three balls all season.
It wasn’t good, and it certainly made life more difficult for quarterback Cam Newton.
Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard on Tuesday offered some sourced insight into the Patriots’ current thoughts on Asiasi and Keene, the latter of whom there seemingly is more optimism for.
From his column:
On Asiasi: You?ve heard us talk about the rookie?s mental toughness all season, well ?a real reality check that this is how hard it is and how hard it?s going to be, how much they have to do in order to be successful, how much they have to do in order to be successful against the kind of competition that they?ve seen this year,? was directly aimed at Asiasi. He caught a few balls in the finale on coverage (busts), but the team is not putting any eggs into his basket and he?ll have competition. Will he rise or turtle? Belchick won?t wait long for his answer.
On Keene: The feeling is he?ll be a good all-around player at some point but he?s been a little slow to get it. He?ll also have competition (Dan Vitale should be back). But also, keep an eye on free-agent FB Kyle Juszczyk.
Obviously, Asiasi and Keene both are early in their careers and have plenty of time to turn things around. They certainly wouldn’t be the first players to shake off rookie struggles and turn into useful players for Belichick and Co.
Still, if New England is going to anywhere next season, Patriots tight ends will have to play a far bigger role than they did in 2020.