For two seasons the New England Patriots’ tight end group has been the worst in the NFL. Since Rob Gronkowski’s temporary retirement in March of 2019, tight ends wearing Patriots uniforms have combined for 55 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns in 33 games. That is by far the worst numbers in the NFL.
Following 2019’s uninspiring tight end performance (37 catches, 418 yards, two touchdowns) the Patriots looked to revamp the group through the draft, spending a pair of third round picks on Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. The group somehow got worse as the two only produced 5 catches for 55 yards and one touchdown.
That’s not to say that they won’t produce in the future, as Bill Belichick has mentioned on a number of occasions, the class of 2020 had as hard a time adjusting to NFL life as any with the stringent protocols they faced and lack of preparation prior to the season. Unfortunately for them, fellow rookies Kyle Dugger and Michael Onwenu were able to step in and contribute almost immediately.
After 2020’s abysmal effort, the Patriots decided to add another pair of tight ends in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, this time through free agency. So with the idea of adding tight end talent to a group that continuously struggles, let us take a look at yet another option.
Name: Tre’ McKitty
Position: Tight end
School: Georgia (RS Senior)
Opening day age: 22
2020 stats: 4 games; 6 catches, 108 yards, 1 touchdown.
Size: 6’5”, 245 lbs
Expected round: Day 3 (4th-5th Round)
#Patriots Draft Target Thread: TE #87 Tre’ McKitty (Georgia/FSU) 6’5” 245 lbs.— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 11, 2021
• Versatile TE who can create mismatches.
• Good route runner with soft hands.
• Solid blocker, takes good angles and shows great body control. pic.twitter.com/Z06kzv7Hej
Strengths: In a world where Kyle Pitts never played football (I shutter at the thought) Tre’ McKitty has the most upside of any tight end in the 2021 NFL draft. He isn’t the fastest or strongest player at the position, but his versatility sets him apart from others. He’s spent time in-line, split out wide, in the slot, as a fullback, and even at running back.
His versatility will get him on the field, his refined receiving skills and ability to block at multiple levels will keep him there.
McKitty’s experience of lining up in multiple spots in an offense have forced him to take a more refined approach to his route running. His understanding of leverage, and body positioning, and his ability to vary up the speed in which he runs his routes helps him be a really good possession receiver, specifically in the middle of the field. Combining all of that with a diverse route tree that has grown from his experiences playing all over the formation, he has the tools to be a solid possession player for years.
Here’s another solid one on one rep, McKitty gains enough ground on the defender to get in front and just out runs him from there. Mixes in a one hand catch for good measure. pic.twitter.com/XfUKBsTCvE— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 11, 2021
As a blocker, McKitty is best utilized as an “F” tight end. Working across the formation has shown to put a little more pop behind his pads and makes him a more effective run blocker. Playing that role on counters and inside pitch plays was where he made a name for himself early in his career at Florida State.
Weaknesses: The physical traits are there, but a lack of production and recurring injury history are enough to make a lot of people pause.
College production is either way over- or way under-valued when it comes to scouting college players. There is a very thin line to balance when taking it into account. In a player like McKitty’s case, you see all of the physical tools are there, so why does he only have 56 catches and three touchdowns in his 24-game career? That is a question that can’t be ignored.
Then there are the ever-persistent injuries that have plagued McKitty. Injuries to his ankle and knee led to some relatively minor procedures but also a lot of missed time. The best ability is availability and no one knows if McKitty will be consistently available.
What would be his role? McKitty had an extremely tough time trying to find a role in college, and it’s hard not to see that continuing in the NFL. He is best suited to start off playing a hybrid/H-back role in the beginning, something that could help promote his strengths. Many believe McKitty can be an elite player if he’s utilized with another tight end that plays a more vertical role.
McKitty had a great week at the #SeniorBowl. If he showed anything, it’s that his hands are the truth. Measuring in at 11” he’s got bigger mitts than Gronk, and they seem to work pretty well. pic.twitter.com/SiDNsrQt9W— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 11, 2021
Does he have positional versatility? There isn’t a title in football that represents versatility more than H-back. I mentioned it above so I’ll give you a more in depth definition. An H-back or “F”-tight end lines up similarly to a tight end but is usually offset behind the line of scrimmage instead of inline. In the run game he serves as an extra blocker, usually stacked with the tight end and sometimes even plays with a fullback. In the passing game he serves the same role as a tight end but often runs routes that are more comparable to that of a running back than a receiver. Ultimately, H-backs can be described as more versatile tight ends. So yeah, McKitty is versatile.
Who’s his competition? There are two other tight ends on the Patriots’ roster that can be slapped with the H-back tag, Jonnu Smith and Dalton Keene. The good news from McKitty’s perspective is that Dalton Keene contributed next to nothing as a rookie and is far from being a roster lock. The bad news, Smith was just given $50 million to play that role for New England. It’s unlikely they look to add a third guy to the mix.
You know I couldn’t do a TE thread without a quick blocking highlight. Watch #6 in red crack down on a poor unsuspecting edge guy. You love to see it.— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 11, 2021
Why the Patriots? The Patriots weapons still could use some depth upgrades and McKitty projects as a pretty dang good one.
Why not the Patriots? Drafting a tight end with very similar traits to a couple of guys that you have recently spent major capital on would be stupid. As much as I may like McKitty, he isn’t a fit.
Verdict: There is no doubt in my mind that Tre’ McKitty becomes a really good professional player. It just won’t be for the Patriots.