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Patriots 2020 roster breakdown: Can versatile Rashod Berry make a name for himself in New England?

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Related: Patriots roster breakdown: WR Jeff Thomas

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 CFP Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With only two weeks to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have the league-allowed maximum of 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer — just like we did the last three years as well — we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.

Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s undrafted rookie class.

Hard facts

Name: Rashod Berry

Position: Tight end/Defensive edge

Jersey number: TBD

Opening day age: 23

Size: 6-foot-3, 265 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Berry arrived in the NFL as an undrafted free agent signing by the Patriots earlier this year. His experience at the pro level is therefore limited to not even three months worth of virtual workouts as well as his new team’s rookie developmental program. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Berry has yet to set foot on the practice field alongside his teammates. That being said, he does bring a lot of experience from the college level to the equation coming off a five-year stint at Ohio State.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2015, Berry went on to appear in a combined 48 games for the Buckeyes, including four as the team’s starting tight end. His 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 — but the youngster did repeatedly show his upside as a blocker. In addition, he also was employed as an occasional edge linebacker after starting his career at the position.

What did his 2019 season look like? Berry was already used in a rotational role over his first two seasons at the tight end position, and his senior year was no exception. With Ohio State using four players to compete for playing time — Berry was joined by Jeremy Ruckert, Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann — the team was able to establish one of the best rushing attacks in the country, but by doing so limited the position’s combined opportunities in the passing game yet again. As a result, Berry caught just two passes for 20 yards all year.

Even though his receiving production over his final 11 college games can best be described as sub-par, the former defensive lineman did again show his value as a blocker and thus helped the Buckeyes average 267.3 on the ground per contest. Berry successfully held his own even when asked to block opposing edge defenders one-on-one, proving himself one of the better blocking tight ends to head into the draft in 2020 — both in the running game and also when occasionally asked to pass-block.

Berry also saw some action on the defensive side of the ball again. While he did not register any statistics, he was used as an edge linebacker in games against Maryland and Rutgers in November. He furthermore earned his degree in family resource management during the season.

2020 preview

What is his projected role? Berry was listed as a tight end the last three seasons of his collegiate career, but his ability to line up on the defensive side of the ball as well creates an interesting dynamic heading into the NFL. That said, the rookie probably lacks the athletic traits to find consistent success as both an edge linebacker or receiving tight end. His role in New England will therefore likely be that of a blocking-first tight end in the mold of ex-Patriot Dwayne Allen.

What is his special teams value? If the Patriots indeed plan to use Berry in an Allen-esque role as a blocking tight end, he should see regular action on special teams as well. How could it look like? He might be given snaps on all four coverage units given his experience of playing two-way: Berry could be used on New England’s punt and kickoff return units and also on its punt and kickoff coverage squads.

Does he have positional versatility? Second only to his solid blocking technique, Berry’s versatility might be his most intriguing trait. As he has shown during his four non-redshirt seasons at Ohio State, he can play on both the offensive and the defensive side of the ball. Within those different areas, the 23-year-old could also be moved around — from fullback to in-line blocker on offense, and from stand-up outside linebacker to three-point defensive end on defense.

What is his salary cap situation? After not hearing his name called during the draft in late April, Berry agreed to a standard three-year free agency contract with the Patriots. The deal includes $82,500 in guarantees, among them $7,500 in the form of a signing bonus. At the moment, the 2020 proration of this bonus — $2,500 — is all that is hitting New England’s salary cap under the NFL’s top-51 rule. If the makes the roster, however, that number will jump to $612,500.

What is his roster outlook? The Patriots’ tight end position has seen some considerable turnover this offseason. Gone is veteran Benjamin Watson, while four rookies were brought aboard: Berry as well as third-round draft picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene and fellow undrafted signee Jake Burt. Together with veterans Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo, Berry and Burt will fight for the remaining roster spots behind Asiasi and Keene. His abilities as a blocking tight end work in his favor, but Berry will have to show that he can contribute in other ways as well — be it special teams, the receiving game, or on defense. Otherwise, he will at best be looking at a stint on the practice squad.