No position on the New England Patriots’ 2019 roster had as many issues as the tight end spot as no player was able to establish himself as a true number one option following Rob Gronkowski’s offseason retirement: neither free agency additions Matt LaCosse and Benjamin Watson, nor second-year man Ryan Izzo were able to elevate the Patriots’ offense through their receiving contributions or their play as blockers in the running game.
Following a free agency period that saw other players at the position sign big contracts elsewhere but New England stand pat, the Patriots are left with only LaCosse and Izzo currently remaining on their roster. While there is a chance that the team projects both to make a big jump heading into their second real seasons in the system (Izzo missed his 2018 rookie campaign on injured reserve), it seems likely that New England will invest in the position during this year’s draft.
We have already looked at the projected top three at the position earlier during the offseason — Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet, Dayton’s Adam Trautman and Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins — so let’s now take a look at a potential late-round option that offers some upside as a blocker and a famous last name. That’s right, it is time to look at Thaddeus Moss.
Name: Thaddeus Moss
Position: Tight end
School: LSU (redshirt junior)
Opening day age: 22
2019 stats: 13 games; 831 snaps; 57 targets, 47 receptions (0 drops); 570 receiving yards; 4 receiving touchdowns
Size: 6017, 250 lbs, 9.88 hand size, 32.75 arm length
Workout numbers: N/A
Expected round: 5th-6th
Patriots pre-draft meeting: N/A
Strengths: Plenty of college tight ends struggle with the blocking aspect of playing the position, but Moss is not one of them: he might be the best pure blocking tight end this year’s draft has to offer and is a tremendous player at the point of attack due to his polished technique and physical aggressiveness. Moss uses his long arms well to engage and has a strong initial punch, keeps his feet active throughout contact and has a good feel for holding his balance both when lining up in-line or when taking on defenders in open space.
Moss may not have the innate skills as a pass catcher his father — ex-Patriot and Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss — brought to an offense, but he does have some strong hands: the 22-year-old did not drop a single pass in 2019 due to his ability to box out defenders in contested situations, his catch radius, and some good concentration and catch-to-carry transition. He also has experience playing multiple spots on offense, and offers some good footwork when running routes.
Weaknesses: Moss’ ceiling as a pass catcher appears to be rather limited due to the fact that he lacks truly outstanding athletic traits: he looks slow out of his stance — both in the two-point and the three-point variety — and when moving into the open field, and does not have the agility to make crisp cuts at the top of his routes. His production at LSU was oftentimes a byproduct of the scheme and play call rather than him gaining separation even when matched up against linebackers.
Moss’ lack of burst also shows up when it comes to creating yards after reception or contact, as he fails to kick into a second gear to run away from defenders (even though this is not for a lack of trying). And while blocking is his strong suit, he also needs to get more consistent with his anchor when aligning on the edge of the formation. Furthermore, his injury history may scare teams away: after moving from N.C. State to LSU and sitting out the 2017 season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, Moss missed all of 2018 due to a nagging foot injury. He also missed the on-field portion of this year’s combine after the medical examination revealed another foot injury that will require surgery.
What would be his role? While Moss has some good hands and positional versatility, his overall lack of upside as a receiver would make him more attractive as a blocking tight end in the Patriots’ scheme. Accordingly, he would likely fill a role similar to that previously held by the likes of Dwayne Allen or Michael Hoomanawanui: he would see most of his action either lining up in-line playing the Y-role or maybe as a fullback substitute, and only occasionally be used to run routes.
How many downs can he play? Moss could contribute on all four downs, but realistically that is not how he will be used at the next level: he will likely see most of his action in select running situations or specific packages — early-down, goal-line, short-yardage — and in the kicking game. Even though the Patriots’ opponent-based game plans might create opportunities for him if the team wants to go run-heavy against a team, he should not be expected to be on the field for any more than 50% of offensive snaps any given week.
What is his special teams value? Moss should be able to perform in the kicking game right away due to his physicality and advanced blocking. He could therefore carve out a role on kickoff and punt coverage units and maybe serve as a protector on field goal and extra point attempts. Whatever his usage, his special teams playing time should be steady even if his offensive is not.
Does he have positional versatility? Moss served as LSU’s starting tight end in 2019 and was used all over the formation as a result: he spent the majority of his snaps in-line (489) but also was regularly moved to the slot (125). While he mostly played closer to the formation, the Tigers’ coaching staff was also not afraid to use him split out wide. That role, however, is not necessarily suited for his skillset.
Will his role change from Year One to Year Two? Unless the Patriots decide to spend a fourth-round pick on him, Moss would not be a lock to make the roster and his outlook should also not be expected to change in 2021: his lack of height and athleticism in combination with a comparatively modest ceiling as a receiver will likely keep him a package-specific player throughout his career — one that can be very good at what he does best, but that should not be expected to suddenly turn into a viable number one receiving option. Consequently, his role would likely not look drastically different in Year Two.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? The Patriots currently have two tight ends on their roster, but the expectation is that they will add at least one more early in this year’s draft. Given that a Day Two pick like Kmet, Trautman or Hopkins would be a lock to make the team, Moss would have to fight against fellow bubble-players Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo for a role on the team. Given his skillset, Izzo would be his closest competition — both are better blockers than receivers.
Why the Patriots? While the lack of receiving productivity was the most obvious issue for New England’s tight end group in 2019, it also struggled in the blocking department: neither LaCosse nor Izzo could consistently win their assignments or help the ground game in a positive matter. Adding Moss — arguably the best pure blocking tight end in this year’s draft — to the equation would at the very least challenge the two and ideally give the team a Dwayne Allen 2.0: an in-line blocker capable of faring very well in that role.
Why not the Patriots? Measured at under 6-foot-2 at the scouting combine, Moss does not fit what New England is historically looking for at its tight end position in terms of height. This may not per se disqualify him, but add his limited upside as a receiver and overall mediocre athletic skillset and you can see why the team might look elsewhere for tight end help — even if it would only take a late-round pick to bring him aboard.
Verdict: Moss’ last name makes him NFL royalty, and he does have some enticing traits to work with. However, he comes nowhere close to his father’s generational athletic skills and should therefore not expect to come off the board in one of the early rounds this year. That said, if the Patriots do not disqualify him due to his lack of height and he is available in one of the later rounds, he could provide value as a potential challenger to players currently on the roster as a blocking tight end option.