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Patriots 2020 NFL Draft Preview: Tight Ends

Positional Overview: You can't overstate how important it is that the Patriots strike gold at the tight end position in this draft. Let me rephrase that. Then need to strike vibranium and the class of 2020 had better be tight end Wakanda. In all my years of doing these previews, I have never felt any position was in need of an instant upgrade like this one, this draft. Hell, I've thought that for the last several drafts. Even when Gronk wasn't swinging a weighted bat in retirement's on deck circle, he was being MacGyvered by the doctors and the TB12 pliability experts for half a decade. And yet they've only taken two tight ends since 2011, and both of those were taken after the 200th pick. This from a team that had always given as much priority to the position as any team in football. In Bill Belichick's first 11 drafts, he took nine tight ends, two in the first round and four in the Top 86 overall. Since then? Pretty much crickets. 

It's also a priority because theirs is an offense that had traditionally been run through the tight ends more so than the wideouts. Which explains why they've selected 12 TEs in 20 drafts, as opposed to just 17 WRs, the highest ratio in the NFL over that span (I think. Don't fact check me. I don't have time for that.) That is, until this last season, in which they got a total of 36 receptions, 418 yards and two TDs out of the position. Or as we used to call that when Gronk was here "a pretty good September." And since Belichick pretty much laughed at all the hoarders filling their shopping carts with free agent tight ends only to find the aisle empty with a sign saying they're all out of inventory, the only available help will have to come April 23-25. 

Where this gets dicey is that the gurus are all over the map on this year's crop. I've seen one print publication that give it an A grade, but others online that have said it's one of the worst classes in recent memory. For sure we can't expect anything like the last two drafts, which saw seven go in the Top 52 and three in the Top 25. Right now you've got a better chance of finding a pack of two-ply in the middle of Panic at the Costco than find a single TE on anyone's Top 50 prospects list. What we do know from the old Belichick memo that was posted on Twitter this week is that, f he has to choose, his preference at tight end is to find a receiver as opposed to a blocker, figuring he can get a third tackle type to help out the run game anywhere. That is helpful as we try to find someone, anyone, who can upgrade this vital spot. 

Current Roster: Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo. I have not left anyone out. I checked the team's official website to make sure. That's the whole depth chart. 


The Consensus No.1:

Cole Kmet, Notre Dame. 6-foot-6, 262 pounds, 4.70 40-time

Kmet is an NFL legacy whose dad Frank was a defensive lineman for the 90s Bills and uncle Jeff Zgonina was a DT for an incredible 17 seasons. And while we're talking about Notre Dame and guys named Jeff with hard to spell last names, he's also a two sport athlete who's drawn some interest from MLB as a reliever. He made a huge leap from his sophomore to his junior year in South Bend, nearly tripling his production from 15 catches to 43 despite missing the first two games with a broken collarbone. He's more of a receiver than an attached-to-the-formation blocker, though he's considered a solid blocker once he gets up to the second level. Still, he's considered fairly raw as he's still adding mass to his frame. He can sometimes have trouble getting off the line and into his route. But also possesses the prototype size and speed, the hands, the agility and the competitive streak to be a solid pro for a team that has the patience to let him develop. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Tyler Higbee

The Two Bryants the Patriots Met with in Indy:

Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic. 6-5, 243 lb, 4.73

Bryant is a converted tackle and whichever of his coaches decided to make the switch deserves a nice Edible Arrangement to say thanks because all he did last year was win the Mackey Award as the best tight end in the nation, thanks to his 65 catches and 1,000 yards against Conference USA competition. Despite being a high school OT, he's not considered to be a traditional Y, but he did impress scouts with his blocking at the Senior Bowl. He didn't run a ton of different routes at FAU, but the ones he did run demonstrated sound route running, change of direction to gain separation and YAC ability, which is something Belichick also specifically mentioned he wants in his receiving targets. I've seen him ranked anywhere from the third best prospect at his position to out of the Top 10. So it's a matter of personal taste, based on what your type is.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: George Kittle

Hunter Bryant, Washington. 6-2, 248 lb, 474

With his size, Bryant is much more of a guy you'd move around the formation to create mismatches than a traditional inline guy. He's considered an adequate blocker when he gets up on a linebacker or a safety than someone you'd try to have blow a DE off the line. And his 40-time at the Lucas Oil Olympics was a little disappointing. But what he does bring are the best hands in this group. He makes up for the lack of size somewhat with with broad shoulders and an impressive wingspan. He's an ACL/MCL and meniscus tear survivor, which is something that has never scared the Patriots off of anyone before. And his production after the surgeries - 52 receptions, 825 yards, 15.9 YPC and three touchdowns in 12 games - would seem to justify faith in him. He's primarily projected to be a Round 3 or 4 selection. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Jordan Reed

Non-Bryants the Pats Met with in Indy:

Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt. 6-4, 257 lb, 4.96

According to some published reports, Pinkney was considered the top TE prospect in his class a year ago as he was coming off a 50 catch, 774 yards, seven TD season. But when Vanderbilt lost Kyle Shurmur and their quarterbacking fell apart, so did his production. He didn't blow anybody's stopwatches off at the Combine. And strangely for a guy his size, he was last at his position with just 13 reps on the bench. (Then again, Nate Solder was the same way and they took him in the first.) Not but he plays a physical game and is quicker than he is a top-end speed guy who'll destroy coverages up the seam. But just in terms of his size and past production, there's a lot of reason to think he can develop into an every down pro. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: OJ Howard

Brycen Hopkins, Purdue. 6-4, 245 lb, 4.66

Hopkins is more of an H-back/slot receiver than a full time tight end, thanks to his lack of size. He's also been plagued by inconsistent hands and unforced errors that cost his team, which might explain how he only had five career starts prior 2019, his fifth year of eligibility. He's fast and operates well in space, but can be shut down by man coverage. Still, he produced, with 61 catches, 830 yards and six scores. Plus he helped himself with good showings at Senior Week and the Puppy Bowl in Indianapolis. And was voted a team captain as a senior, which is something that will usually make Belichick leave your resume on his desk, instead of keeping it "on file in case we have an opening." Plus his father Brad was with the Texans for a bunch of years. And his general versatile athleticism and IQ makes him an ideal Core-4 special teamer. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Jacob Hollister

Jacob Breeland, Oregon. 6-5, 252 lb, 4.76

Playing on the business end of Justin Herbert's throws, Breeland was off to the start of a career year before a knee injury ended his season six games in. He's got the look and build of a prototype NFL tight end, though he's somewhat limited in his ability to run himself open and a lot of that production might have been more of a result of the Ducks scheme than him winning one on one matchups. He's an adequate blocker with sound technique and long arms, but don't expect him to be earholing 275 lb defensive ends on edge runs. He might be a late round steal if teams are scared off by him missing half the season. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Luke Stocker

Most Intriguing Small School Guy They Also Talked to at the Combine:

Adam Trautman, 6-5, 255, 4.80

God help me, I love the guys whose highlight package looks like it was taken from the "High School Player of the Week" feature on a local newscast. Still, his 74 receptions for 916 yards and 14 (!!!) touchdowns earned him a spot at the Senior Bowl. He didn't run as well as expected at the Combine, but if you've been paying attention to how the Pats draft during the 21st century, you know that doesn't mean nearly as much as the 3-cone drill, which is to Belichick what bleached hair, collagen lips and giant saline bewbs were to Hefner. He surrounds himself with the results of that particular fetish. And Trautman posted a 6.88, the only sub-7.00 time in the group. His blocking could use some coaching, but he has all the ingredients to be a threat in both the run and pass game inside that frame, which could've been designed by the precision engineers at the Tight End Manufacturing Plant using 3-D printers and wind tunnels. I'll admit that I'm partial to the guy. And he removed a lot of doubts about his blocking going up against first rounders at the Senior Bowl. Mainly because of his all around skills and potential. But also as someone who includes a movie quote in every Patriots game recap, I want someone with the same name as John Rambo's commanding officer.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: David Njoku

Mr. Polarizing

Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri. 6-5, 258 lb, 4.49

Okwuegbunam is one of those guys you put through all the measurables and you time his 40 run with the wide receiver speed that was almost 0.2 faster than the No. 2 TE, and you think he might have been sent to Midgard by Odin himself to show us mortals what a tight end should be. But it's the intangibles that you worry about. Like with all those skills, it's fair to ask where the production is. Granted, he lost Drew Lock to the NFL last year. But still, with all his gifts, producing less than 100 catches for his three year career doesn't seem to match his talent. Some scouts question his aggressiveness, particularly in the blocking game. A guy with his build probably shouldn't be a "move" tight end or a hybrid TE/WR, but that seems to be the fit for him. But then again, the idea of a guy combining his length and catch radius and top end speed, letting him outrun linebackers and safeties and out-physical corners - not to mention provide a tempting red zone target - is going to attract a lot of teams. Maybe as early as the second round. I can't wait to see what he brings. Even though it means putting up with the 10,000 times Dan Fouts and Cris Collinsworth will congratulate themselves for pronouncing Oh'-koo-way'-boo-nam like idiots. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Jimmy Graham

A Patriots Legacy:

Thaddeus Moss, LSU. 6-2, 250 lb, 4.65

Randy Moss' kid. I have to admit, the idea of seeing him catching passes from Tom Brady in his final years meant a lot more a few weeks ago than it does now. Even with the undeniable superior DNA, Moss has had to overcome a lot to get to this draft. He played for four different high schools as the family moved around. He needed two foot surgeries in order to play last year, when he contributed 47 catches, 570 yards and two touchdowns in the National Title game to make Joe Burrow's Heisman Trophy and Trump's White House burger party happen. Interestingly, he's not the freakish athlete that his father is (who ever was?) but he's actually a highly graded blocker for a more or less average sized TE. He more than stood his ground against the best defensive fronts in the nation. He's got an elite catch radius, could help as a red zone and boundary target, and projects to being a hybrid or TE-2 on a team with an top-caliber TE-1.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: MyCole Pruitt

All-Name Team:

Joey Magnifico, Memphis. 6-3, 240 lb

Believe it or not, Joey Magnifico is getting some attention, despite not being featured in the Tigers offense, with just 62 receptions in three seasons. And he had to sit out the Cotton Bowl against Penn State with a minor knee infection. But I haven't needed the Patriots to draft a guy so much since Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. I just want them to call his name in the seventh round and say he hails from parts unknown. And I want the mask concession.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Rey Mysterio

The Perfect Patriot: Kmet. He checks all the boxes at their most critical area of need in years.

Whom the Patriots Will Take: Kmet. They can probably trade down out of the first round and still take him as the first tight end off the board in the late 30s or early 40s. I'm also going to say they take Trautman later on Day 2. Because the need is that great. And because it enables them to recreate the Joker 2-tight end offense around Jarrett Stidham. You heard it here first. 

Earlier previews: