Before the NFL offseason hits its full swing, NESN.com will be highlighting hidden Patriots: players on New England?s roster who have fallen under the radar for one reason or another. Next up: tight end Devin Asiasi.
“Better late than never” was the theme of tight end Devin Asiasi’s rookie season with the New England Patriots.
Asiasi and fellow rookie tight end Dalton Keene struggled to produce for the Patriots in 2020 until the final week of the season. Asiasi registered the first two catches of his NFL career in Week 17 against the New York Jets and scored a touchdown on a 26-yard reception. The UCLA product had been blanked on the first five targets of his NFL career and dropped one pass.
Asiasi wound up playing 213 offensive snaps and caught just two passes for 39 yards with the touchdown in 2020. He played 150 snaps inline, 46 in the slot and 17 split out wide, per PFF. At 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, Asiasi ran a 4.73-second 40-yard dash with a 1.65-second 10-yard split, 30.5-inch vertical leap and 9-feet, 7-inch broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine last winter.
Asiasi, like Keene, didn’t have the easiest path in 2020 even beyond the typical acclimation process that leads to a lack of production seen by rookie tight ends. NFL teams held their offseason workouts, including rookie minicamp, organized team activities and team minicamp, virtually. Training camp was truncated and preseason games were canceled. Asiasi was thrown into the fire after a few weeks of summer practices, and quite frankly, he played like it early in the season.
Asiasi’s rookie year also was interrupted by tragedy when a close friend of the tight end’s was shot and killed. Asiasi was placed on injured reserve and spent time with family to clear his head before returning for the final four weeks of the season.
It was important that he finished strong, however.
It’s tough to say what the Patriots should do at tight end this offseason. On one hand, they just invested two third-round picks in tight ends and should expect significant improvement out of both players, Asiasi and Keene, in 2021. On the other hand, New England desperately needs better production at tight end, and if Asiasi and Keene can’t take that next step, then they’ll be on Year 3 of searching for answers at what used to be one of the team’s most dominant positions.
The Patriots will probably attempt to acquire veteran help at the position if only because there are a plethora of attractive options hitting the trade block or open market.
The Patriots have Asiasi, Keene, Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse, plus fullbacks Jakob Johnson and Danny Vitale, on their 90-man roster. Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Gerald Everett, Jared Cook and Dan Arnold are hitting unrestricted free agency, Robert Tonyan is a restricted free agent and Zach Ertz, Evan Engram, Jesse James, Kyle Rudolph and Ian Thomas could be traded. It seems like New England should try to wind up with at least one of those 11 players to ensure better production from the position with over $60 million in cap space this offseason.
That also wouldn’t mean the Patriots would be giving up on Asiasi or Keene. New England had a pretty high-powered offense that featured two tight ends from 2010 to 2012. Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett combined for 80 catches, 1,241 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016. There’s room for a veteran tight end, Asiasi and Keene — potentially in a hybrid fullback-tight end role — all to flash in the Patriots’ offense next season.