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Film room: Devin Asiasi has all the attributes to succeed as the Patriots’ Y-tight end

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Related: Film room: Anfernee Jennings can line up all over the Patriots’ defensive front

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Cal at UCLA

After Rob Gronkowski’s (temporary) retirement last offseason, the New England Patriots were left with a tight end corps consisting of free agency acquisitions Matt LaCosse and Benjamin Watson as well as second-year man Ryan Izzo — a group that struggled to adequately fill Gronkowski’s shoes both in the passing and the running game, and one that made it necessary for the team to invest further resources at the position. Those investments were not made in free agency, though, but rather through the draft.

For the first time since choosing Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the second and fourth rounds in 2010, the Patriots invested a selection higher than a fifth-rounder in their tight end position last month: the team brought Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene on the board in Round Three, spending the 91st and 101st overall selections on the two youngsters. While Keene projects more as a move/H-back-type player at the next level, Asiasi offers a well-rounded skillset and could very well carve out a role as New England’s TE1 during his rookie season.

With that said, let’s take a closer look at the UCLA product.

Vertical receiving

New England received only limited contributions in the passing game out of its tight end position last year: LaCosse, Watson, Izzo and short-time in-season addition Eric Tomlinson combined to catch only 40 passes over the team’s 16 regular season games and lone playoff contest for a total of 457 yards and two touchdowns. As a whole, this made New England’s tight end group one of the least productive in the NFL.

While not the same talent as Gronkowski was back in 2010, Asiasi should be an immediate upgrade over what remains of last year’s group (LaCosse, Izzo). Not only does he bring prototypical size and length to the equation at 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, he also boasts exceptional wiggle, off-line burst, vertical speed, and body control. Add his abilities to naturally plug the football out of the air and make high-concentration catches in traffic and over the middle, and you get a potential Day One impact player.

Asiasi may not be the quickest player out of his stance and into his routes, but he displays a good feel for leverage and zone concepts as well as smooth moving skills when breaking in or out at the top. The first two plays (0:00 and 0:06) are good illustrations of that: Asiasi (#86) aligns in a three-point stance outside the right tackle on both of them, and runs similar crossing patterns that ask him to make an in-cut around 10 yards down the field.

The youngster displays some good quickness on both and also an ability to read the defender tasked with covering him. What also stands out is a necessary dose of fearlessness that tight ends need to bring to the table when attacking down the seam or over the middle of the field: Asiasi does not shy away from taking a hit, and is capable of holding onto the football even through immediate contact after the reception.

This, in turn, makes him the first true seam threat that the Patriots have had since Gronkowski decided to call it a career (at least for 13 months):

As can be seen, Asiasi offers a big target for his quarterback and gets upfield in a hurry while simultaneously understanding how to make himself presentable against different coverages. On the first of the three plays shown here, for example, he again reads the back-pedaling defender to determine whether to break towards the perimeter or into the middle of the field. With Oklahoma safety Pat Fields (#10) opening his hips, he makes a slight adjustment to the inside and gets open for the reception.

His ability to successfully maneuver vertically up the seem could also make him a threat in the Patriots’ play-action game. While he needs to get better at not telegraphing his intentions, his foundation as a receiving tight end is a strong one.

Athleticism

Asiasi’s overall athleticism may not wow anyone — he registered 6.12 out of 10 points on Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athleticism scale — but he has shown that it still allows him to be productive with the football in his hands: he has the speed to turn catches into long runs when given room to operate, and also offers good contact balance to absorb blows:

The 22-year-old has shown some good acceleration with the ball in his hands as can be seen on the second play (0:08): he is able to gain some separation on a crossing pattern and builds up sufficient speed to outrun the two defenders in pursuit. His straight-line speed may not be overwhelming — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.73 seconds at the combine (Gronkowski ran a 4.68, for comparison) — but it does help him to create space between himself and linebackers or safeties in coverage.

Likewise, Asiasi does not have the outstanding play strength of a Gronkowski but still knows how to keep his feet moving through contact and disengage from smaller defenders attempting half-hearted tackles (see: 0:16).

Blocking

Having played the Y-role in UCLA’s scheme, Asiasi has some good experience as both an in-line and a move blocker. He does need some technical refinement, especially when it comes to his hand placement, but he has shown that he possesses the power to generate movement on combo blocks and the ability to set his anchor and mirror when asked to pass protect:

The first play is a good example for his ability to function as an outside blocker on combo concepts: originally aligning on the far left end of the line, Asiasi generates a good push as the outside force player before moving on to the next level. While UCLA ran the ball to the other side of the formation, his ability to quickly disengage off two-player blocks could help him adapt to the Patriots’ zone-heavy rushing attack.

The fourth play (0:15), meanwhile, illustrates his skills in pass protection: Asiasi, lining up as an in-line blocker on the right edge, reads his assignment well to move to the inside without opening up his outside shoulder to a rip or swim move. Instead, he quickly engages and is able to hold his balance and keep his feet active. He generally had some good moments as a one-on-one blocker, and was able to dominate smaller edge defenders in such situations: he stayed attached once he latches on and kept his feet churning to finish blocks.

This dominance also carried over when he was asked to block in space and at the second level:

On the first play shown here, against Washington State, Asiasi is aligned as an off-set H-back behind UCLA’s right tackle and asked to serve as the lead blocker in case quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (#1) decides to keep the ball on the team’s zone-read concept. He does indeed do that and is able to get around the edge in part because of Asiasi’s blocking: he identifies his assignment — safety Bryce Beekman (#26) — quickly and keeps him engaged long enough for Thompson-Robinson to make it to the end zone.

All in all, Asiasi gives the Patriots the versatile, sure-handed matchup weapon at the tight end position that they have sorely lacked after Gronkowski’s retirement in 2019. Physically, he is already by far the team’s best in-line option and has the upside as a blocker and receiver to succeed as a Y-tight end in the team’s scheme. If he can inspire confidence with the coaches, Asiasi could be a starter early on as a rookie.