With not even two weeks to go until their entire roster is 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 tight end group.
Name: Ryan Izzo
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 85
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-5, 255 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? After a four-year career at Florida State that saw him catch 54 passes for 761 yards and six touchdowns, Izzo was selected by the Patriots in the seventh round of the 2018 draft: the team invested the 250th overall pick in the ex-Seminole to have him compete for a roster spot behind Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. His first year in the league came to a quick end, however: after having seen regular playing time over the first two preseason contests, the then-rookie suffered a high-ankle sprain.
The injury subsequently forced New England to shut him down for the remainder of the year, but Izzo was back on the field the following offseason. With both Gronkowski and Allen gone, he was able to earn a spot as the team’s third tight end and did see his first professional real in-game action as a blocking tight end. The majority of his experience in the league so far, however, was accumulated behind the scenes: Izzo has appeared in just six of a possible 36 games since getting signed by the Patriots.
What did his 2019 season look like? After spending virtually his entire rookie campaign on injured reserve, Izzo entered the 2019 offseason as the longest-tenured member of the Patriots’ new-look tight end depth chart. Following a solid preseason performance during which he played 106 of a possible 294 offensive snaps (36.1%) and caught three passes for 44 yards, the former seventh-round pick did not just earn a spot on New England’s 53-man roster but also saw regular action over the first six weeks of the regular season.
With Matt LaCosse dealing with a nagging ankle injury and Benjamin Watson suspended for the first four games, Izzo played 268 out of 439 offensive snaps (61%) between the Patriots’ season opener and their Week 6 game against the New York Giants. Along the way, he caught six passes on nine targets for 114 yards and a touchdown — all while continuing to see most of his action as a blocker. But while Izzo surrendered only two quarterback pressures in the form of one sack and one hit, he failed to keep his job.
Following the aforementioned game against the Giants, Izzo was declared inactive for every single contest while the Patriots turned the keys of the tight end position over to LaCosse and Watson. Even with the former dealing with a knee injury, the second-year tight end failed to get onto the field again — partly because of his inconsistent play over the first six weeks of the season, partly due to a concussion that forced him to sit out three games. All in all, Izzo therefore ended Year Two as little more than an emergency option.
What is his projected role? Even though he offers solid length to also find success as a receiving tight end in the Patriots’ offensive scheme, his last two seasons saw the team use him primarily as a blocker both in the running and the passing game — a role that is not expected to change too much unless the 24-year-old makes a massive and surprising jump in his development this summer. Izzo will therefore likely only compete for a rotational and situation-specific role like the one he held at the beginning of last year.
What is his special teams value? While the Patriots regularly used their tight ends on special teams in the past, 2019 presented a shift in philosophy that included Izzo. He was on the field for just four kicking game snaps all year long: Izzo played a pair of snaps on punt coverage in Week 3, and two more on kick return units in Week 6. Unless New England’s coaching staff changes its approach to the position once again, the third-year man should not be expected to see a lot of playing time in the kicking game this upcoming season.
Does he have positional versatility? Within his role as a blocking tight end, Izzo showed some solid versatility last year. He saw most of his snaps aligning as an in-line tight end, but also was moved to the slot on occasion and moved out wide. He even was employed as a fullback on a few snaps. While he cannot be seen as a move tight end due to his skillset, the coaching staff did apparently trust him enough to use him in a flexible role over the first half of the 2019 season.
What is his salary cap situation? Given that he was never released over his first two years in the league, Izzo is still on the original rookie contract he signed with the Patriots back in 2018. As part of this deal, he will hit the team’s books with a salary cap number of $692,268 — that is if he makes the active roster. For the time being and with the NFL’s top-51 rule still in effect, only his signing bonus proration of $17,268 is counting against New England’s books.
What is his roster outlook? Izzo may once again be the longest-tenured member of the Patriots’ tight end depth chart, but that does not guarantee him a spot on the team come roster cutdown day. After all, he failed to hold onto a top-two tight end role last year as well. In 2020, meanwhile, he will have to compete against veteran Matt LaCosse and undrafted rookies Jake Burt and Rashod Berry for a role behind roster locks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene — both of whom were drafted in Round Three earlier this year. Izzo’s experience is a plus, especially compared to Burt and Berry, but he needs to take advantage of it in order to bounce back from last season and make the team or at least its practice squad.