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Why Patriots took a flier on ex-Chiefs tight end James O’Shaughnessy

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On Saturday, a minor swap of draft positioning sent James O’Shaughnessy to Foxborough.

Given the minimal investment, expectations for former Kansas City Chiefs tight end James O’Shaughnessy are also minimal as he begins his tenure in Foxborough.

The third-year pro checks in as one of seven tight ends now with the New England Patriots, and on a depth chart led by Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, it’s unclear just how long he’ll remain there.

After all, it was a minor swap of draft positioning that brought O’Shaughnessy aboard on Saturday. The 25-year-old, who entered the league as a fifth-round pick back in 2015, was sent to the Patriots along with a sixth-round pick.

In return, the Chiefs received a fifth-rounder.

Kansas City went on to use that fifth-round choice from New England on Georgia Southern linebacker Ukeme Eligwe at No. 183 overall, while the Patriots downshifted 33 spots before moving up to take UCLA tackle Conor McDermott at No. 211. O’Shaughnessy was the flier in between.

But the Patriots had done their homework on the Illinois State product two drafts prior to his acquisition. That homework was filed away for future reference.

“Just when you go through your draft process, your evaluation process, you never really know when a player may or may not come up,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said in his post-draft press conference. “He was a player we had done quite a bit of work on as well.”

A second-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honoree in 2014, O’Shaughnessy’s senior campaign with the Redbirds saw him appear in all 15 games and haul in two touchdowns in the FCS national championship. From there, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior took part in the Northwestern pro day, and registered a 40-yard dash of 4.68 seconds, a three-cone of 7.26 seconds, a short shuttle of 4.48 seconds, as well as a 35-inch vertical and 9-foot-5 broad jump.

The Patriots had kept an eye out.

“We went down there, we worked him out before the draft, so we had some contact with him,” Caserio said of O’Shaughnessy. “I mean, he was a player that we liked that year and the Chiefs ended up picking him.”

O’Shaughnessy ended up becoming the sixth Illinois State prospect drafted in the last decade, and the 10th tight end taken in the 2015 class after Maxx Williams, Clive Walford, Tyler Kroft, Jeff Heuerman, Blake Bell, MyCole Pruitt, C.J. Uzomah, Jesse James and Nick Boyle.

He’s mostly made his mark without the football over the two years since.

O’Shaughnessy started six of his 23 games during his time with Kansas City, recovering one fumble and recording as many tackles – eight – as he did catches.

He was the intended target of a dozen passes.

But his contributions in the periphery had merit on the 46-man gameday roster.

In 2016, behind first-team All-Pro Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris, O’Shaughnessy appeared in all 16 contests. Through that span, he caught two passes for minus-one yards while logging 111 snaps on offense and 287 snaps as a member of the kickoff and punt units.

Only four Chiefs handled more looks on special teams than O’Shaughnessy did last season.

That was certainly taken into account by New England.

“He's had some experience offensively,” added Caserio. “He's had a decent role in the kicking game for them down there in Kansas City, and he's a young player. We'll put him in the mix. I mean, obviously, he knows nothing about our system. He hasn't been in our system, so we're kind of starting from scratch with him. We'll put him in the mix with everybody else and see how he does.”

O’Shaughnessy stands with 86 receiving yards on his NFL resume and tallied 54 of those in one game against the Denver Broncos during his rookie season. He could, however, present a "move" option with after-the-catch and special-teams flexibility reminiscent of recent Patriots tight ends Clay Harbor and AJ Derby.

Perhaps that’ll reach the surface through mandatory minicamp, training camp and the preseason as he vies for the third or potentially fourth spot alongside inline-type Matt Lengel, blocking specialist Michael Williams, futures signing Rob Housler and undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister. Perhaps it won’t.

As Caserio cautioned, things are “kind of starting from scratch.”

But between rounds four and seven, the Patriots weren’t after starters so much as they were after developmental depth with the serviceability to make the cut. With O’Shaughnessy – a plus athlete with production in the third phase – the war room added exactly that.

And it didn’t take much. More than anything, it just took some homework.