By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Leading up to the start of training camp, we’ll be breaking down each position on the Patriots roster. Here’s a look at New England’s tight end group, which should be one of the team’s most improved units in 2021.
That really shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish, considering the Patriots got next to nothing out of the position in 2020. Most of that was because the group was comprised of Ryan Izzo and a pair of rookies. There were high hopes for those two rooks — Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene — but they didn’t have a real training camp or preseason to acclimate to the NFL. So it really should be no surprise that 2020 was essentially a lost season for both.
The duo combined for just eight receptions, 254 yards and a touchdown. Izzo made just 13 catches for 133 yards. Add it all up and you have one of the most unproductive tight end units in all of football.
That should change in 2021 thanks to the Patriots heavily investing in the position in free agency. Bill Belichick was throwing out big-money contracts like he was Oprah giving away cars, signing Jonnu Smith to a four-year, $50 million deal and Hunter Henry to a three-year, $37 million deal. In doing so, he snagged the top two tight ends on the free agent market.
Offseason Additions: Smith (free agency), Henry (free agency), LaCosse (returning 2020 opt-out), Fumagalli (free agency)
Offseason Subtractions: Ryan Izzo (traded to Houston)
Smith and Henry give New England a pair of dynamic playmakers at tight end once again, harkening back to the days of 2010-12. Smith has increased his production in each of his four seasons, catching eight touchdowns last season. And while he was behind Derrick Henry and AJ Brown in Tennessee, he’ll now be one of the main focal points of the offense in New England. Smith can do some serious damage once the ball is in his hands, averaging 7.2 yards after the catch over the last three seasons, and he’ll get plenty of opportunity to show that with the Patriots.
He’s also got a solid running mate in Henry, who when healthy is one of the best in the business. He’s a wrecking ball in the red zone, something the Patriots sorely lacked in 2020. Health is the biggest concern with Henry, who has never played a full season during his five-year career (he missed all of 2018 after tearing his ACL in OTAs). But again, when he’s healthy, he’ll be a big target for Cam Newton or whoever is slinging the football for the Patriots.
The addition of those two will allow Asiasi and Keene more time to develop. LaCosse, who opted out of the 2020 season, will have to have a great camp and preseason to make the team, as will newcomer Fumagalli.
But with Smith and Henry leading the charge, tight end should be a much, much, much more productive position for the Patriots in 2021.