The New England Patriots acquired tight end Martellus Bennett from the Chicago Bears for a 4th round pick and I’ve lauded the move as one of the best of the offseason. Bennett has been a game-changing tight end that can catch and block with the best of them.
CBS’s Pete Prisco thinks that he’s overrated.
“[Bennett] dropped from 90 catches in 2014 to 53 last season,” Prisco writes. “His yards-per-catch dropped from 10.2 to 8.3. That's not good for a player who turns 30 next March. That is a bit of a red flag. He's been a good player, but by the talk you'd think the Patriots acquired another Gronk when they landed Bennett. Not quite. He is a good blocker, which will help the run game.”
Before jumping into the discussion, I think it’s a great sign that the “most overrated” player on the Patriots is someone the team acquired this offseason because I take that to mean the core of the team is rock solid.
But I also have to disagree with Prisco.
I don’t think anyone has said that Bennett is as good as All Pro tight end and possible T-900 Rob Gronkowski, but the reception is that Bennett is a potential top five tight end.
Bennett is one year removed from a 90 catch, 916 yard, and 6 touchdown season and a Pro Football Focus top 5 tight end grade with the Bears as the 4th option in an offense with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte. Between 2012 and 2014, he collected 210 receptions (4th, behind Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, and Greg Olsen) and 2,301 yards (5th most, behind Graham, Olsen, Witten, and Gronk).
Bennett’s production dropped to 53 receptions and 439 yards in 2015 with a new offensive coordinator in Adam Gase, now the Dolphins head coach. Marshall was no longer on the team (now with the Jets) and Jeffery was hurt the entire season (9 games played), which made Bennett the only reliable option in the offense and a key focus of opposing defenses.
Bennett finished the 2015 season on the injured reserve (IR) with broken ribs, but he averaged 42.5 yards per game over his ten healthy games (he missed a game, came back a week, and then was placed on the IR), the third best mark of his career and reasonable with Marshall or Jeffery no longer available to distract opposing defenses.
As for Bennett’s 8.3 yards per catch (YPC), that was his lowest mark since 2010 and it’s partially due to a change in offensive philosophy. His average depth of reception (ADOC) dropped from 4.87 ADOC in 2014 to 4.17 ADOC under Gase in 2015. The lack of receiving options made it easier for defenses to key in on Bennett to reduce his yards after the catch.
Gase also enjoys using tight ends closer to the line of scrimmage. Over the past three season, the league average tight end caught the football with 6.4 ADOC, while Gase’s tight ends caught them at a depth of 5.7 yards, which would be the 10th lowest depth in the league. For comparison, the Patriots had the 3rd highest ADOC over that time frame at 8.1 yards, behind just the Buccaneers and Browns. I don’t think it’s out of the question that the change in scheme and the improved surrounding cast will reopen the field for Bennett.
Bennett has been known for his receiving in recent years, but he started his career by being a great blocker. Bennett’s blocking was elite with the Cowboys and Giants, but took a dive to mediocre with the Bears.
Martellus Bennett's PFF run blocking grade rank (out of ~ 60-70 qualifying TEs)— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) March 17, 2016
There’s potential for Bennett to return to his elite form outside of Chicago, but even if he doesn’t improve, he’s still in the top quarter of the league in blocking ability.
And when you combine a top five receiving tight end with pretty good blocking, you have a player that stands out when compared to his peers. Jimmy Graham, Jordan Reed, Zach Ertz, and Coby Fleener don’t block, while Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, and Greg Olsen are all aging.
Gronk is the unanimous #1 tight end in the league, with Olsen, Reed, Walker, Ertz, Travis Kelce, and Tyler Eifert in the second tier. I think many are acting like Bennett has the potential to be at the bottom of that second tier and I don’t think that’s an incorrect evaluation.
We’ll find out when the season kicks off.
Edit: Bennett seems to have found Prisco’s take and has a response:
@PriscoCBS lmfao. I'm a blue collar TE I've never had hype around my name. I'm a pick up truck. don't try to catch a ride this year either.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 20, 2016
These dudes just be talking. All those dudes on that list can play. Lmfao.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 20, 2016
Sleeping on the boy. Wake up. We working over here. Running laps while everyone else just running their mouths. Let's work.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 20, 2016
I'm doing push ups right now. Kissing my biceps. Talking to my reflection. Telling it you're great, no matter what happens. Just go hard!— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 20, 2016
Just because I make children's books, animated films and apps doesn't mean I won't open up a can of whoop ass.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 20, 2016
I'm excited about the season. Sleeping in my cleats tonight just in case I need to break a tackle and run to the endzone in my dreams.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 20, 2016