Patriot Draft Profiles -Tight End Is a Position of Need

Steve Balestrieri
March 25, 2019 at 6:00 am ET

As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is extremely hard.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And we’ll start with tight end. Dwayne Allen was released and Rob Gronkowski now finally deciding to retire, the Patriots are in dire need of a productive tight end. Regardless of whether he came back or not, the tight end position needs a shot of youth there.

I know, I know… it is getting increasingly hard to be a Patriots fan. There hasn’t been a Super Bowl parade for nearly two months. Right? SMH

With Gronkowski gone, the position consists of Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson, and the newly signed Matt Lacosse. Lacosse will be an upgrade in the passing game but isn’t the blocker that Allen is. Hollister is a talented kid but can’t stay healthy. Izzo is a very good blocker while Anderson is the wildcard.

In the upcoming draft, we expect both T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant to be gone before the Patriots pick, despite our recent Mock Draft 1.0 where Hockenson was still there when we selected. So, who do they have a shot at? Could they now move up and take one of those players if they are still around in the #15-20 range? Yes, I’d think Hockenson may be that target.

Irv Smith, Alabama:

Smith is a slightly small TE at 6’2, 242, but had excellent production in 2018 with 710 yards, 16.1 yards per reception and seven touchdowns. He doesn’t have a ton of experience but he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.

Pros :

  • Excellent blend of speed and route running
  • Can attack the seams
  • Mismatch on linebackers
  • Good blocker outside in slot or as an H-Back

Cons:

  • Despite NFL pedigree, was a bit of a one-year wonder
  • Size isn’t ideal, not great as an in-line blocker

What his Role Will Be: Smith will be eased into the offense as a flex or “move” tight end initially or line up in the slot with two tight end sets.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Yes, with added strength and size, he could be ready to become a true three-down TE inline.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Smith could be the eventual “replacement” for Gronkowski, and we put that in quotes because no one can replace Gronk.

What is his ST Value? Minimal but he may find himself on the return team

Irv Smith could possibly be around at the end of the 1st round for the Patriots. He has the potential to be a very good pro receiver. He comes from an NFL background and is just scratching the surface of his professional potential. From our point of view, he’d be enjoy big production in this offense. Could the Patriots move up to get him in Round 1? It is now more than just an exercise in what-ifs.

Kaden Smith, Stanford:

Smith is a well-rounded, tough, customer. He’s the latest member of “Tight End U” to enter the NFL Draft. Smith (#2) has improved his run blocking by working with Stanford alums Zach Ertz and Dalton Schultz.

Pros :

  • Solid blocker in-line
  • Can catch balls in traffic
  • Good hand/eye coordination
  • Can work underneath and be a security blanket

Cons:

  • Blocking technique needs to be refined
  • Route running will need some work
  • Occasional concentration drops

What his Role Will Be: Smith can be eased into the Gronkowski “Y” tight end role gradually, especially if they swing a deal for an established veteran.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With improved route running and strength after a year in the conditioning program, he could become a productive #1 or #2 tight end.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

***See above***

What is his ST Value? Minimal

The Patriots should find Smith on the board during Day2/3. He isn’t the most athletic tight end but will be a solid blocker and should be fine working underneath moving the chains. While probably not ever becoming a dynamic receiver in the Gronkowski mold, he could be a very solid, move the chains type of guy.

Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M:

Sternberger is a talented pass catcher who comes from a very athletic family. His mom was a HOF basketball player from Southeast Oklahoma St. and his dad played football at Southeast Oklahoma. He’s 6’4, 252 pounds and had 48 catches, 832 yards and 10 touchdowns for A&M this year.

Pros :

  • Excellent route running
  • Plays like a big receiver
  • Very good hands
  • Can present matchup issues

Cons:

  • Willing but not great at blocking inside
  • Size isn’t ideal, he will have to beef up more
  • Can be misrouted at the line at times

What his Role Will Be: Sternberger could easily slide into a move TE role initially and give the Patriots a big target out of the slot.  

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he can improve his strength, he could possibly get more snaps at the “Y” position.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can eventually replace a lot of Gronkowski’s production, when he gets cut loose more in the passing game. He’s a very good athlete at the position and should give the team flexibility to be the move or the “Y” tight end.

What is his ST Value? He could find himself on the return teams right off the bat.

Sternberger could be found in the middle rounds and one AFC scout told NFL.com that he can easily become a 50-60 catch kind of player. Sternberger has a lot of upside with star potential as a receiver. I look for him as a Round 3 or 4 selection. If he’s there, he’d be hard-pressed to pass up.

Trevon Wesco, West Virginia:

Wesco has very good athleticism for a big man 6’3, 270. He’s part offensive lineman, part pass receiver who can block, run and catch the ball. He’s still very raw in the pass receiving department but could become a very good #2 tight end.

Pros :

  • Big upper body, strong, and agile
  • Punishing blocker
  • Can line up inline, as an H-Back, or a fullback
  • Soft hands caught 24 of 26 passes targeted to him in 2018

Cons:

  • Won’t beat man coverage consistently
  • Can lunge at times in his run blocking
  • Raw route running will be an issue to work on

What his Role Will Be: Wesco can easily compete for the #2 tight end role. His physicality and athleticism will provide him with the tools to take Allen’s role

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he can improve his skills in the pass-catching role, he can become a much more viable target in the passing game.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can replace Dwayne Allen’s role as a big, physical blocking tight end who can catch the occasional pass thrown his way.

What is his ST Value? He will immediately play on the return team as an athletic big man who can open holes for the returners.

Wesco is a player who will be there in the late rounds and has the capability to be a very good #2 tight end. If Gronkowski does indeed return for more one go-round with the Patriots, picking up a guy as Wesco sets them up for the #2 spot for some years ahead. But it is doubtful, he’d ever become a #1 guy.

_______________________

The Patriots need to address the tight end position in the draft or possibly decide to make a trade with one of their 12 draft picks for an established veteran. Reportedly, via Mike Reiss at ESPN, they were actively trying to bring Jared Cook in but he balked at the thought of Gronkowski returning and the two having to split reps. However, Cook hasn’t signed anything yet so he may get an 11th hour push from the Pats.

In regards to the draft, while there are other tight ends that may fit the Patriots offense, these are the ones we feel would be the best fit. We’ll continue to keep an eye on any developments as they unfold at Gillette.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at[email protected]


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