Entering the 2023 NFL Draft, this years tight end class was considered one of the deepest and most talented in years. That seemed like good news for the New England Patriots, as they entered the weekend not having a tight end signed beyond this season.
But as the draft came and went, New England did not use one of their 12 selections at the position. While they did add Louisiana’s Johnny Lumpkin in undrafted free agency, it seemed like a questionable decision at first to not add at the position earlier in the draft.
Speaking after the conclusion of the draft, Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh shared insight on the decision.
“The thought process was those guys went really fast and they just kept coming off,” he explained. “That was just the way the draft unfolded. There were some guys up top. There was some good depth in the middle of the draft and those players came off really, really fast.
“But sometimes a guy goes just like I mentioned before, a guy goes and then it’s like an avalanche and that position just kind of keeps falling and falling and falling and so you’ve got to still trust your board and you want to not just draft a guy to say, ‘Hey, we drafted a tight end.’ Well, if he’s not the right fit, if he’s not what you’re looking for, then you don’t want to waste a draft [pick] just to say, ‘OK, well, now we feel good we drafted a tight end.’”
Coming off the board fast is exactly what happened. After New England selected cornerback Christian Gonzalez with the 17th overall pick, four tight ends — Dalton Kincaid, Michael Mayer, Sam LaPorta, and Luke Musgrave — were picked before the Patriots next selection at No. 46.
After using that pick on edge Keion White, two more tight ends — Luke Schoonmaker and Brenton Strange — came off the board before New England’s next selection. As the Patriots then waited for their fourth pick of the weekend, Darnell Washington, Tyler Kraft, and Cameron Latu were all nabbed in front of them.
“We had a couple guys that we really liked,” Groh added. “They just went and that’s just kind of the way it’s going to go at any position in the draft. Just got to kind of take them as they come.”
Moving forward, the Patriots will now heavily rely on their top pair in Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. 2022 practice squad players Matt Sokol and Scotty Washington also remain under contract.
The 6-foot-5, 264-pound Lumpkin could also factor into the equation for his blocking ability. But, the need for a true in-line blocking tight end may be a tad overrated due to new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s heavy use of empty formations, while the team also seemingly trusts Henry in low-stress blocking situations.
New England should be set with their current group for this season, but will have decisions to make at tight end this time next offseason. They could look to re-sign Henry and/or Gesicki or look externally in free agency and in next year’s draft. But, time will tell if the Patriots missed a golden opportunity to replenish their tight end talent after passing on the highly regarded 2023 class.