While it has been a very real possibility since the Super Bowl wrapped, up all reports suggest that Martellus Bennett is going to test the free agent market, and once he gets there it’s a safe bet that a team is going to price him out of the Patriots range. Although Bennett was a well-liked addition to the team this year, he had to battle injuries for the majority of the season and the team might be better served looking to the draft for a young running mate to pair with Rob Gronkowski.
Luckily for them, the tight end class is deep this year, with a number of prospects at the position expected to come off the board in the first two days. Alabama tight end OJ Howard is the consensus top tight end prospect, and at this point it seems unlikely that he will even make it to the Patriots first pick. Behind him, “move” tight ends (think Aaron Hernandez, or Jordan Reed for a non-murdery example) like David Njoku from Miami or Evan Engram out of Ole Miss are viable options.
There is, however, one guy who brings a skill-set that stylistically matches up with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett: Jordan Leggett out of Clemson.
Jordan Leggett, Tight End, Clemson
Jordan Leggett, a senior tight end who helped Clemson reach back-to-back National Championship games, is listed at 6’5’, 255 lbs. Leggett was a two-time finalist for the John Mackey award, given to the nations top tight end. He has compiled 86 catches for 1,261 yards over the past two seasons, 15 of which went for touchdowns. He is Clemson’s career leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns by a tight end, per the team site.
When I say Leggett is stylistically comparable to Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, by no means should that imply that he’s destined to match the success those two have seen in the NFL. What it should imply, however, is that Leggett is a big, athletic-enough tight end who can do just about anything you ask of him. Clemson utilized him as a lead blocker in the run game often, as well as keeping him in to help in pass protection. He lined up everywhere, from a traditional tight end spot, to the slot, to an H-Back role, and even got split out wide on occasion.
Leggett isn’t overly fast, but he’s an accomplished route runner for his size. He understands leverage and how to win positioning on whoever is defending him. He has nice hands, only recording 2 drops over the past two seasons (per NFL.com).
Although Leggett was utilized often in both run and pass blocking, he didn’t stand out when he did so. He struggled to hold blocks, and he doesn’t block with the strength or tenacity you’d expect out of someone his size. He has characterized himself as “lazy” in the past, so his motor is something that needs to be monitored, and teams should be questioning him about it during the pre-draft process (NFL.com).
While he is athletic-enough, he certainly isn’t an elite athlete, and this shows in his route running. He excels up the seem and on curls and flats, but when he has to make sharp breaks, he has no explosiveness coming out of them and allows his defender back into the play. While this is negated some by winning the positioning battle often, it’s a concern for the next level.
Here is just a standard seam route. Leggett gets a free release off the line, wins inside positioning and is hit down the seam for a nice gain, hanging onto the ball through contact (the ball pops out after it was already ruled a catch). There is nothing overly special about this play, but it is one the Patriots utilize often, so it is worth showing his ability to run it.
Here’s a positive example of his blocking abilities. Leggett, coming out of an H-Back position, pulls across the line as the lead blocker on a QB keeper, engages his defender, and seals the lane. He does a nice job of subtly holding the defender to aid in turning him to seal the lane. The way he does it is obvious because of the camera angle, but would rarely, if ever, be called in the NFL.
This is a not-so-positive example of Leggett as a blocker. Once again the lead blocker out of his H-Back position, Leggett takes off to the strong side this time, and gets matched up on a defensive back. He initially engages the DB, but is unable to finish the block. His defender couldn’t finish the play, but Leggetts inability to finish the block put the defender in a position to make one.
In the 2015 NCG, Leggett makes a nice adjustment to his route to help his QB make a play. Leggett was getting vertical on a seam route, and when he looked back and saw Deshaun Watson breaking the pocket, he stemmed off his route and broke to mirror the direction Watson was moving. Once he was open, he makes a nice adjustment to bring in a ball that was thrown slightly behind him.
Although the camera takes him off-screen, Leggett gets open on a deep out route, turns up field and makes an athletic play to stretch for the endzone (side note: my arm would disintegrate if it had to support my body with the force that Leggett’s had to here).
As has already been stated, Leggett brings a style of play to the position that the Patriots are known to love. He has his issues, and he isn’t a slam dunk prospect like Gronkowski would’ve been without his injury concerns. If his motor isn’t an issue, he brings a decent ceiling as the second tight end in the offense, though he has some work to do if he wants to reach the level of Martellus Bennett, never mind Gronk.
If a run on tight ends happens early, and the Patriots grab him with their second round pick, I wouldn’t hate it. Ideally however, he makes it into the third round and the Patriots could either trade back from their second rounder or trade up from their third to get him. There’s a chance he makes it to the end of the third round, but if the Patriots like him that isn’t a risk they should be willing to take. Ultimately, he isn’t a perfect prospect, but one with a skill-set that New England could maximize better than perhaps anyone else in the league.