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 draft class.
Name: Devin Asiasi
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-3, 260 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2023 (2024 UFA)
What is his experience? A four-star recruit out of high school, who played on both offense and defense, Asiasi decided to enroll at Michigan in 2016 as the number three tight end in the country. His tenure with the Wolverines lasted all but one year: while Asiasi did appear in all 13 games as a true freshman — catching two passes for 18 yards and one touchdown — he decided to transfer back to his home state and join UCLA. The move, however, forced him to sit out the 2017 season under the NCAA’s transfer rules.
In his first year with the Bruins, Asiasi played a backup role (he also was forced to sit out three games due to a team suspension) before earning the starting tight end position in 2019. All in all, he registered 50 catches for 771 yards and five touchdowns in two seasos at UCLA before deciding to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft. He eventually heard his name called in the third round, when the Patriots made him the 91st overall selection this year. Asiasi’s NFL experience is virtually non-existent at this point in time.
What did his 2019 season look like? With number one tight end Caleb Wilson having left UCLA after the 2018 season to go pro, the road was clear for Asiasi to take over the team’s TE1 role in 2019. He did just that and subsequently delivered the best season of his collegiate career: starting all 12 of the Bruins’ games, Asiasi was on the field for a combined 719 offensive snaps and proved himself one of the better all-around tight ends in college football — a player both capable as a receiver and a blocker.
Asiasi set new career highs in numerous statistics during his final year at UCLA. The team’s starting Y-tight end registered 44 catches on 68 targets and finished the season with 641 yards and four touchdowns — ranking in his team’s top three in all those categories. What stood out about his production as a receiver was that most of it came late in the year and that Asiasi had his three best receiving performances over his final three games: he caught a combined 18 passes for 312 yards and one score against Utah, USC and Cal.
With momentum on his side, the honorable All-Pac 12 selection decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and declare for the 2020 draft. Asiasi was subsequently invited to the NFL’s scouting combine and ranked as one of the better prospects in an otherwise shallow tight end draft.
What is his projected role? Asiasi gives the Patriots a versatile, sure-handed matchup weapon at the tight end position that they have sorely lacked after Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement in 2019. Physically, he may already be the team’s best in-line option and also 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.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots’ tight end position underwent a philosophical shift in 2019 and saw only minimal usage in the kicking game. Injuries may have played a role in this, though, which is why it would not be surprising to see Asiasi get some looks on special teams this year. He could play as an additional blocker on field goal and extra point attempts and also be used as a front-line protector on punt coverage teams.
Does he have positional versatility? Having played the Y-role in UCLA’s scheme, Asiasi has some good experience as both a receiver and a blocker: he was regularly used in an in-line role and as a move blocker, and also aligned in the slot on select passing plays. While the 22-year-old does need to get better from a technical perspective and has to show that he can win one-on-one matchups in coverage no matter where he lines up, the potential to serve as a versatile tight end option is apparent.
What is his salary cap situation? Shortly after the Patriots selected him in the third round of this year’s draft, Asiasi signed a standard four-year rookie contract with the team. As part of this deal, he is currently on New England’s books with a salary cap number of $83,240 — a portion of his 2020 signing bonus proration. Once the NFL lifts its top-51 rule in early September, Asiasi’s cap hit will jump to $833,240.
What is his roster outlook? Given his draft status and the Patriots’ uncertain situation at the tight end position, Asiasi is a lock to make the 53-man roster this year. The main question heading into his rookie campaign is therefore whether or not he can carve out the top tight end spot on the depth chart. From a talent perspective, he should be able to do just that but his lack of experience after an abbreviated offseason could slow his development and force the team to slowly incorporate him into the mix alongside fellow rookie Dalton Keene and possibly a veteran option such as Matt LaCosse or Ryan Izzo.