MORSE: Patriots Roster Analysis – Part 4 TE, FB, Special Teams
Right back into it with a grouping of the positions Tight End, Fullback, and Special Teams.
Jonnu Smith – was my favorite Free Agent for the Patriots to sign in the off-season. Smith is just beginning to reach his potential. In High School, he was vastly under-recruited with Florida International the only program to offer him a scholarship. He played in 53 games for FIU and had a catch in every game he played. As a Junior, he tore his ACL in the 2nd Quarter but stayed in and finished the game. He ended up with 10 catches, 183 yards, and 2 TDs.
He had finished his career at FIU with 178 catches for 2001 yards. His numbers were off the chart when it came time for the draft. He stood 6’ 3”, 248 lbs, ran the 40 in 4.62, 4.18 SS. Several Patriots Wide Receivers don’t run as fast as Smith. These are some of the things coach Belichick had to say about Smith: he can separate; he blocks well; good receiver; TEN even used him at Tailback; hard to tackle; catches the ball well and is very good with yards after the catch. Josh McDaniels must be staying up late nights designing ways in which to utilize Smith all over the field. Smith has only missed 4 games in 4 years. Can he stay healthy? Smith missed the Mini-Camp with a hamstring injury. That will need to be monitored in Training Camp. He is a roster lock.
Hunter Henry – I was shocked the Patriots were able to sign both Henry and Smith. Especially because they play the same TE position. They must be extremely confident in their own abilities. BB must have done a hell of a job convincing them of how they were going to be utilized together and there would be enough targets to satisfy both players. Henry is more of a traditional in-line TE. The Arkansas (SEC) product stands 6’5”, 250 lbs, ran a 4.67 40, 4.41 SS, and 7.16 3 cone drill at the combine.
One drawback was his weightlifting work, which was last for the TE position at the combine. For his career, he has caught 196 passes for 2,322 yards and 21 TDs. He has averaged 14.3 yards per catch. He has been injured every year, missing the 2018 season altogether with a torn ACL. Last season was his top number of receptions (60). His YPC has gone down every year of his career. He is a tough matchup for the defense. A blue-collar, hard-working player, he will become a fan favorite. As a High School Freshman, Left Tackle, he was promoted to the varsity for the State Championship and started. His route running is very crisp. His HS coached called him a perfect fit for the Patriots
Devin Asiasi – Last season he had a big opportunity to shine as he was named the starter. Instead, the TE group as a whole was the worst in the league. Combine his inexperience, lack of rookie camp, OTAs, and mini-camp, he was behind all season. Add to that the poor play by the Quarterbacks made for this disaster. I look for Asiasi to bounce back this pre-season and secure the third TE position on the roster. The UCLA product was a 3rd round selection.
He originally played for Michigan but followed his position coach to UCLA. He was forced to sit out the 2017 season by NCAA transfer rules. He didn’t put up big numbers until his Junior year at UCLA. He was regarded as the best blocking TE in the draft. He stands 6’ 3” 257 lbs, ran 4.73 40 but didn’t run the SS or 3-cone drill. Asiasi could play the fullback position, but he needs to improve his blocking.
Dalton Keene – I was very excited when the Patriots doubled up on the TE position in last year’s draft. I liked Keene’s potential. He was being compared to George Kittle because of his position flexibility and the fact that he was underutilized by Virginia Tech. His career numbers were 59-748- 8. He was durable, playing in 39 games for VT in his 3 years. He played as a True Freshman and came out as a Junior. Keene was described as a hands catcher, runs fluid pass routes, plays with toughness, and is a determined blocker. However, we saw none of that last year. Was the game too fast for him? Quite a few 1st-year players received significant playing time. Some flourished and both TEs floundered. Keene is on the roster bubble. He will be competing with WRs Zuber, Wilkerson, Nixon for a roster spot. The Pats could go with an extra TE since they will be emphasizing a 2 TE offense. That would mean one less WR.
Troy Fumagalli – “9 Fingers” is all effort. He stands 6’ 6”, 248 lbs (no running stats available). He lost his left index finger as a baby and has been playing his entire football career without it. Lacks the ability to separate and get open. Limited physical athlete. What he lacks athletically he makes up in determination. He was the MVP of the Cotton Bowl as a Senior at Wisconsin. He was a walk-on. He has 19 games played for Denver with 5 starts. His career numbers are 14-118-2. Because of his experience, he should get a look in Pre-Season. I am curious to see him play and rooting for him because of his disability. I could see him making the Practice Squad.
Matt LaCosse – Sat out 2020 due to COVID. Most players that sat out 2020 due to COVID are no longer on the roster. Hightower and Bolden are the other two exceptions. LaCosse is playing from behind. His chances of making the final 53-man roster are slim. Most fans forget that LaCosse was the Patriots starting TE heading into the 2020 season. He has 40-403-2 career stats in 31 games played for the 5th year former UDFA. He played for the Giants and Broncos before the Patriots. In 2019 he played in 15 games for Denver and then 11 for the Patriots the following year.
Rashod Berry – the UDFA played in 3 games last year for the Patriots. Berry is listed as both a DE and TE on the Patriots roster. He played on special teams last year and had 1 tackle as a DE. He is athletic and plays two positions. I don’t see him making the roster, but he could be re-signed to the Practice Squad again. He played both positions at Ohio State.
Jakob Johnson – is the only true fullback on the roster. With the advent of the two TE set, I don’t see the need for Johnson. He received a roster waiver by the NFL under the International Player Pathway Program for the Pre-Season. The exemption does not apply to the final 53-man roster. I expect Johnson to be cut and re-signed to the Practice Squad.
Matthew Slater – is a perennial All-Pro Special Teamer. He is so special that he may one day be enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame. He is the main reason the Patriots had the #1 Special Teams unit in the NFL last year. The Team Captain leads by example. One day soon Slater will hang them up, but until then enjoy watching one of the true professionals in the NFL.
Justin Bethel says CB next to his name on the roster but gunner should be the correct title. Combined with Slater, there are no two finer players at that position. They are teammates and that’s another reason ST is #1. Bethel led the team with 14 Special Teams tackles.
Brandon King – another 4 teams special teamer. He is 28 and has missed the last two seasons because of injuries. I find it hard for him to make the team because they were able to play without him the last two seasons and maintain that high performance.
Nick Folk – I was very surprised that Folk did not get another offer from a team in the league. He is not great, but very consistent. He is going into his 14th season in the NFL and is being pushed by a young UDFA Quinn Norbin for the roster spot. Last season he was 26 of 28 on FGs and 30 of 33 on PATs. In his rookie year (2007) he was selected to the Pro Bowl representing the Dallas Cowboys who selected him in the 6th round of the draft.
Quinn Norbin – He is the only UDFA from 2021 on the roster. If the streak of keeping at least one UDFA on the Opening Day Roster is to be maintained, then Norbin would have to beat out Nick Folk. The streak is currently 17 years running. Norbin wasn’t asked to kick much for Michigan with 41 makes on 53 kicks for his career. Last season he was just 2 for 5 and missed one of the 5 games Michigan played with an injury. Having listed his stats, Norbin has impressed during workouts and is said to have a big leg. Consistency will be the deciding factor.
Jake Bailey – made his 1st of what should be many Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections in 2020. He averaged 48.7 yards per kick and a net of 45.6. In 2019 as a rookie 5th round pick, he averaged 44.9 yards per kick and a net of 41.3. The net set a new Patriots team record, which he re-set in 20. Solid gold!
Cody Davis – Resigned for two years with the Patriots this off-season. He was second in tackles to Justin Bethel with 9 tackles. His biggest contribution was a blocked FG against Los Angeles Chargers which Devin McCourty returned for a TD. He can play Safety also so he is not just an ST player. He is a lock for a roster spot.
Posted Under: 2021 Patriots Offseason