It took the New England Patriots two years following Rob Gronkowski’s departure to find some competent tight end play again. They did so by making some massive investments: Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith were signed to three- and four-year contracts in free agency last spring, taking over as the one-two punch at the position.
While Smith was less actively involved in the offense, especially as a pass catcher, than Henry, there is no question about the duo’s role heading into 2022. Henry and Smith will continue to play a prominent role in New England’s offensive attack and head a tight end group that currently looks as follows:
- Hunter Henry: 28 | Signed through 2023
- Jonnu Smith: 27 | Signed through 2024
- Devin Asiasi: 25 | Signed through 2023
- Dalton Keene: 23 | Signed through 2023
Whereas Henry and Smith are locked into the starting roles at the tight end spot, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene are in an uncertain position entering their third seasons in the NFL. The two youngsters had a minimal impact on the Patriots offense since their arrival as third-round draft picks in 2020; they have some potential but thus far have had few opportunities to actual prove themselves.
With the Patriots always trying to maximize their roster spots, they might be looking to add some more competition to the equation through the draft and subsequent free agency.
(Just for clarity’s sake: players are listed alphabetically within their respective groups)
N/A: The Patriots will not move up in the first round to select a tight end. Not only are they set at the position, there also are no players available this year worth making a major — i.e. Day 1— investment in.
Targets at No. 21
N/A: With Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith under contract for two and three seasons, respectively, there is no need to select a tight end in the first round. That is true for 2022 and will likely still be the case in 2023 as well.
Day 2 targets
N/A: There are a handful of tight ends worth drafting on Day 2, but the Patriots will likely not invest in any of them. Their current depth of the position is sufficient, and would allow them to go bargain hunting on the third day or in free agency.
Day 3 targets/Free agency targets
Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina: Likely offers some enticing athleticism and was fairly productive during his senior season at Coastal Carolina; he caught 59 passes for 912 yards and 12 touchdowns. He needs to add to his 6-foot-4 frame to hold his own against NFL competition, but his talent might be enough to earn him a roster spot as a late-round pick.
James Mitchell, Virginia Tech: A college teammate of current Patriots tight end Dalton Keene, Mitchell offers some of the same qualities. The projected Day 3 selection is coming off a torn ACL and will likely need some time to get up to speed, but could have some value as a pass catching H-back-type player in an offense such as New England’s.
Andrew Ogletree, Youngstown State: Ogletree’s production at Findlay and Youngstown State was nothing to write home about, but he has some skills to work with. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds he offers good size to compete as a blocker, and he also possesses the movement skills to become an effective pass catcher.
Chigoziem Okonkwo, Maryland: Okonkwo has all the baseline skills you are looking for in a tight end, but he is not refined enough to take on a prominent role at this point in his development. That said, if he can improve his blocking he could turn into a F-tight end/H-back-type player at the next level.
Teagan Quitoriano, Oregon State: At just under 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds, Quitoriano offers some intriguing size at the position. His average athleticism and lack of any outstanding traits will likely see him go undrafted, but he has a solid foundation that might help him earn a roster spot as a backup and special teamer.
Cole Turner, Nevada: A talented pass catcher, Turner transition from wide receiver to tight end ahead of his 2020 junior season. Since then, he caught 111 passes for 1,282 yards and 19 touchdowns. His blocking is not up to NFL levels, but he can help a team as a big-bodied late-round pick still learning the ins and outs of playing his new position.
If the Patriots still believe that Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene can be of value as backup options behind Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, they likely will not make any big investments at tight end during the draft or in the ensuing rookie free agency. But even if not, any competition brought aboard will likely be of minor consequence to the overall construction of the roster.
Realistically, the Patriots will add one or two players late or as free agents. If they work out and bump Asiasi or Keene off the roster, so be it. If not, no big resources were spent.