The New England Patriots entered last month’s draft with an obvious need at tight end after the position group struggled in 2019: neither offseason acquisitions Matt LaCosse and Benjamin Watson nor second-year man Ryan Izzo were capable of properly filling the void created by Rob Gronkowski’s (temporary) retirement. After sitting out free agency, the Patriots had to turn to the draft to add some fresh talent to their tight end room.
On Day Two of the event, they finally addressed the position after moving up the board in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders: New England sent three picks to the Raiders in order to move up from the 100th to the 91st overall selection in the third round. The player targeted with the trade-up was UCLA tight end Devin Asiasi, a potential all-around tight end who offers upside not just as a versatile pass catcher but also as an in-line blocker.
“I started playing the position just looking up to guys who were doing it, and guys I can take different parts of their games from,” Asiasi said during his introductory conference call with the New England media shortly after being selected. “It’s guys like George Kittle, obviously Gronk, who is one of the best tight ends to ever play the game; all those guys you just look up to and want to take little different pieces to add to your game.”
Asiasi did not start his football career at tight end, but rather at quarterback before transitioning to the position in high school: playing on both sides of the ball — he also was a defensive end — he entered college as a four-star recruit and later joined Michigan to play tight end. After only one season with the Wolverines, however, he decided to return to his home state of California and transferred to UCLA.
Asiasi had to sit out the 2017 season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, and registered only six catches in 2018, but did hit his stride in his second year in the system: during his 2019 redshirt junior season, he caught 44 passes for 641 yards and four touchdowns — setting new career marks in all three categories. Most importantly, however, he gathered some important experience playing in an NFL-like program under head coach Chip Kelly.
“It definitely helped me out a lot,” Asiasi said about playing under the former Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers head coach, who also has close ties to the Patriots’ Bill Belichick. “Obviously with Coach Kelly’s history of being in the NFL and having those NFL-type offenses and things like that, it definitely prepared me, I feel like. I feel pretty confident in the preparation that was put into me by Coach Kelly.”
One part of this preparatory process in his two seasons under Kelly was taking care of the football, as Asiasi pointed out during his presser: “Definitely think that’s a product of our team, product of the coaches and having an emphasis on ball security. We have our ball security drills that we do every day. So, it’s definitely an emphasis throughout the week to secure the ball, take care of the ball and protect the ball if possible.”
Playing fundamentally sound football has been a hallmark of the Patriots as well — and something the 22-year-old needs to continue building upon as he turns his attention from the college level to the pros. His work with Chip Kelly and experience inside the Bruins’ offense will ideally give him some advantage, but Asiasi seems well aware that he needs to put the necessary work in order to reach a similar level like the tight ends he has been trying to emulate.
“At the end of the day, it’s your game,” he said. “You’ve got to make it unique in your own way.”