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Patriots 2021 roster breakdown: Waiver wire pickup Kahale Warring offers intriguing upside

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: LB Tashawn Bower

NFL: AUG 05 Packers and Texans Joint Practice Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”

The team currently has 81 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we are taking a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.

Today, the series continues with tight end Kahale Warring.

Hard facts

Name: Kahale Warring

Position: Tight end

Jersey number: TBD

Opening day age: 24

Size: 6-foot-5, 250 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Before getting claimed off waivers by the Patriots earlier this week, Warring spent two seasons with the Houston Texans. The team had originally selected him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, investing the 86th overall pick to get him aboard. Despite his draft status, however, Warring’s impact on the Texans was limited: he struggled with injuries in both his rookie and his sophomore seasons, and as a result appeared in only 7 games. He has caught a mere 3 passes for 35 yards.

Despite his lack of production at the NFL level, Warring does have plenty of high-quality football on his career résumé. Before arriving in Houston, after all, he spent four seasons at San Diego State University. After redshirting as a freshman in 2015 and suffering a season-ending foot injury in 2016, he went on a productive two-year run to close out his time as an Aztec: Warring appeared in 25 combined games during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, catching 49 passes for 620 yards as well as 6 touchdowns.

What did his 2020 season look like? After spending the entirety of his 2019 rookie campaign on injured reserve because of concussion and hamstring issues, Warring’s second season as a pro was off to a rough start as well. The former third-round draft pick was unable to participate in any offseason workouts due to the league’s Coronavirus guidelines, and also did not have the preseason to finally build some momentum following a year-long stint on the sidelines.

Nonetheless, he was able to make his NFL debut on opening day against the Kansas City Chiefs. Warring played only nine snaps that day — all on special teams — but it was a step in the right direction. Five days later, however, he suffered another setback: an undisclosed ailment forced the Texans to send him to injured reserve once again. His stay on the reserve list was only temporary this time, though. Even though he did miss nine contests, he was reactivated to the 53-man roster in late November.

Warring saw action in all six remaining regular season games for the Texans, and therefore finished with seven in-game appearances. In total, he was on the field for a combined 111 snaps: he played 52 snaps on the offensive side of the ball (of 980; 5.3%) as well as 59 more on special teams (of 445; 13.3%). His statistical impact was limited, though, and he registered only 3 catches for 35 yards on 7 targets — despite the majority of his snaps coming in the passing game and not as a blocker.

2021 preview

What is his projected role? The Patriots are well-set atop their tight end depth chart, with Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry potentially one of the best one-two punches in the league. The depth behind them is a question mark, however, which is where Warring could come into play: the 24-year-old has the positional flexibility to serve in a backup role behind both Smith and Henry. Given his injury history and inexperience, however, he likely is best used as a rotational and package-specific option.

What is his special teams value? As noted above, Warring actually saw more snaps in the kicking game than on offense during his 2020 season with the Texans. Houston employed him on both the kickoff and punt return units last year, before adding additional responsibilities during this year’s preseason: besides his role on the punt return team Warring also saw time on both of Houston’s kick coverage squads.

Does he have positional versatility? Injuries limited him over his first two years in the league, but Warring has plenty of potential as a hyper-athletic player capable of aligning in various spots for the Patriots. Last year, for example, the Texans moved him all over the formation: he aligned primarily in-line (25 snaps) but also played from the slot (13), split out wide (13) and even in the backfield on one occasion. Given that he is still comparatively inexperienced — including high school and college he has only three full season of football on his résumé — his ceiling is an intriguing one.

What is his salary cap situation? When the Patriots claimed Warring off the waiver wire, they took on his contract without the remainder of his signing bonus. This means that the former third-round draft pick has no guarantees left in his deal, and therefore no impact on New England’s salary cap at the moment: Warring has has a cap number of $780,000 (e.g. his base salary) this season which does not qualify him for Top-51 status. He will only count against the books once he makes the 53-man roster.

What is his roster outlook? With final roster cutdowns only a week away, Warring will basically get an extended workout with the Patriots. He will be able to participate in three practices and the preseason finale versus the New York Giants, and has an opportunity to prove himself as a viable depth option at tight end. In order to do that, however, Warring has to get up to speed very quickly. His experience in Bill O’Brien’s offense should help him, but it will be a challenge nonetheless.