Nobody will confuse him Rob Gronkowski anytime soon, but Ryan Izzo has nonetheless been a valuable member of the New England Patriots’ offense nine games into its 2020 regular season. The third-year tight end has been on the field for 80.3 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, and has caught 10 passes for 134 yards.
Most importantly, Izzo has been available week-in and week-out. While he has been limited in practice because of a hamstring injury recently, he has not missed any game time — something that cannot be said about the rest of New England’s tight end depth chart.
“In football, that’s the number one thing: dependability and availability. A player that’s out there every day that can continue to work and improve and get better has a lot of value to the team, and Ryan has been able to do that this year, more so than the other years he’s been here,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during a media conference call earlier this week.
“He’s always worked hard. He’s always been kind of a quiet kid that’s very diligent and works hard. But, he’s had some, unfortunately, physical setbacks where he would be moving along and then miss some time and not really be able to have the on-the-field consistency that any player needs to improve and be successful. I think his training, his overall development physically has improved and that’s been helpful for him again in terms of maintaining his durability and sustaining the day after day grind of practices and preparation and games that has brought him this far.”
Izzo originally arrived in New England as a seventh-round selection in the 2018 draft, but he had to spend the entirety of his rookie campaign on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury during preseason. Izzo did return the following season, and played 61 percent of the Patriots’ offensive snaps between their season opener and Week 6. But while he caught six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown along the way, he was unable to keep his job — in part due to a concussion that forced him to miss three games.
The 24-year-old was full-go again when New England started its preparation for the 2020 season, but he did face considerable competition: the Patriots had invested third-round selections in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, two players that were locks to make the roster based on their draft status. When the team did eventually open its season, however, Izzo was atop the depth chart.
His standing has not changed since, as Asiasi and Keene both struggled to stay healthy over the first half of the season. Eventually, the two youngsters were sent to injured reserve within a week of one another. Izzo, meanwhile, has been a reliable if at times unspectacular starting tight end.
For Belichick, however, dependability has been Izzo’s most important skill in Year Three.
“Durability is more important than ability, and Ryan I think is a great example of that,” he said. “The fact that he’s been out there has really given him a chance to improve and he’s taken advantage of that and given us some good play at that position. Certainly, this has been his best year, but it’s also been his most durable year.”
While the Patriots are eventually expected to get Asiasi and Keene back from IR, and also have recently claimed Jordan Thomas off waivers, Izzo will likely remain New England’s TE1 for the foreseeable future. He may not post gaudy stats or make big plays as a receiving options, but he is there when called upon. Sometimes, that is all it takes.