The New England Patriots wasted no time during the NFL’s legal tampering period to upgrade a tight end group that was among the least productive in the league the last two years. After already signing Jonnu Smith to a four-year contract worth $50 million on Monday, the Patriots went back to the free agency well on Tuesday by adding Hunter Henry via a three-year, $37.5 million pact.
Led by the two big-name additions, New England has completely reshaped its tight end depth chart in a matter of hours. With that said, let’s take a closer look at the group following a transformational two-day stretch.
Y/In-line tight ends
Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi, Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse
The top spot atop the Patriots’ in-line depth chart now belongs to Hunter Henry. A former second-round draft pick who spent the first five years of his career with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, Henry has proven himself not just as a big-bodied pass catcher but also a player capable of performing well when asked to run-block or pass-protect. As a result, the 26-year-old should hardly ever leave the field.
On the next spot down the list we find Devin Asiasi. A third-round draft choice one year ago, Asiasi had some encouraging moments during a challenging 2020 season — he missed time due to injury and was unable to participate in a normal offseason due to Covid-19 restrictions — and should have some value to the Patriots despite the recent signings at tight end. He will likely play a smaller role compared to Henry as an in-line option, but his developmental upside is still worth working with.
The same cannot be said about Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse. The two veterans, who arrived in New England in 2018 and 2019, respectively, have shown little during their time with the Patriots. Izzo is little more than a role player in the running game, while LaCosse struggled with injury before opting out last year. Both could very well be on their way out the door.
F/Move tight ends
Jonnu Smith, Dalton Keene
While Hunter Henry will be taking over the number one spot atop the in-line depth chart, Jonnu Smith will become the top move option at the tight end position and could help fill the F-spot in the lineup. He is still expected to see plenty of snaps from the in-line position but his athleticism and abilities after the catch should also allow him to be moved to the H-back for fullback spots or split out wide. Either way, he is a versatile player for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to use.
Dalton Keene falls in a similar category, even though he offers less from a traditional in-line perspective. Having spent most of his college career as an H-back in a run-first scheme, his transition to the Patriots offense was a slower one than that of fellow third-round pick Asiasi. He did get somewhat regular snaps down the stretch in 2020, but oftentimes looked out of place. If Keene gets up to speed from a mental perspective, he can still have value as a fourth option and possible fullback-type player. If not, he could find himself on the outs as well.
How would you grade the Patriots’ decision to sign Hunter Henry?
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