Ever since Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement after the 2018 season, the New England Patriots’ tight end depth chart has not just been among the weakest on the team but in all of football. While the organization did address the issues by investing two third-round selections in this year’s draft in UCLA’s Devin Asiasi and Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene, there were no significant changes so far compared to a disappointing 2019 campaign.
This has left the Patriots’ tight end position at a rather vulnerable status, and one that is on full display right now. After the team moved Devin Asiasi to injured reserve earlier this week, it now has its two remaining tight ends both listed on the injury report: Dalton Keene and number one option Ryan Izzo are dealing with knee and hamstring issues, respectively, and were both limited during Thursday’s practice.
While seeing them on the field is a positive sign, their statuses for the upcoming game against the New York Jets are very much up in the air. This is especially true considering that Keene missed last Week’s game versus the Buffalo Bills because of his injury.
Add the fact that the Patriots’ wide receiver position has also been bitten by the injury bug recently — Julian Edelman was placed on injured reserve after undergoing a procedure on his knee, while N’Keal Harry remains absent following a concussion sustained in Week 7 — and you get a potentially critical situation. Accordingly, New England might have to get creative in order to bolster the depth at the tight end position.
Enter Rashod Berry. The undrafted rookie currently is part of the Patriots’ practice squad, and spent virtually all of training camp and the season up until this point working on the defensive side of the ball: he may have only played four non-special teams snaps in his lone in-game appearance this year, but they did come as an outside linebacker.
That said, Berry split time between linebacker and tight end in college. While his raw statistics may not be overwhelming due to the program’s use of its tight ends in the receiving game — he finished his college career with just 17 catches for 198 yards and four touchdowns — the youngster did repeatedly show his upside as a blocker.
Accordingly, the Patriots could look at him in the same light again with Asiasi on IR and both Izzo and Keene dealing with injuries. Bill Belichick pointed out as much during a media conference call on Friday.
“Yeah, definitely,” New England’s head coach answered when asked about the possibility of using Berry at tight end. “He has played that position for two years at Ohio State. Rashod’s a very willing player, willing to do whatever he’s asked to do. At this point, when you have to create depth on your roster, those are the kind of options you are going to look at.”
Berry would not be the team’s first two-way player. Just last year, the Patriots employed Elandon Roberts not just at his usual linebacker position and on special teams but also as a fullback: he played 70 snaps on the offensive side of the ball while the team helped to replace an injured James Develin. Roberts therefore finished the 2019 season with 29 tackles and five quarterback pressures, as well as a 38-yard receiving touchdown and one carry for no yards.
Other two-way players in recent Patriots history include wide receiver/cornerback Julian Edelman, special teamer/safety Matthew Slater and defensive end/tight end Jake Bequette. Now, Berry is on the verge of joining them. At the very least, though, the youngster offers depth at more than just one position — a level of versatility New England certainly values and has taken advantage of in the past.