Tag Archives: Ryan Izzo

Ben Watson Returning to New England Proves You Can Go Home Again

Steve Balestrieri
May 10, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

BThe Patriots are turning the clocks back to 2004 a bit as they’re coming to an agreement with veteran tight end Ben Watson who they’re signing to a one-year deal worth $3 million dollars.

Watson began his career in New England as a first-round draft pick (#32) out of Georgia in 2004. He played the first six years of his career with the Patriots before moving on to Cleveland, Baltimore, and two stints with the New Orleans Saints.

Watson never really lived up to his first-round expectations with the Patriots but a couple of his most memorable moments were his two late touchdowns on the first Monday Night Football game of 2009 as Tom Brady was just returning from his ACL injury to pull out an improbable comeback win. And his uber-athletic chasing down of Champ Bailey in the playoffs of 2005 where he ran 100 yards from the opposite side of the field and knocked Bailey out of bounds after he intercepted Brady and returned the ball all the way down the field.

He led the Ravens in receptions in 2017 with 61 and had his best season with the Saints in 2015 with 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns.

The 38-year old Watson considered retirement this winter but after the birth of his twins recently had a change of heart. Now his career has come full circle and he’s returning to the team that drafted him.

The tight end position will be vastly different in 2019 as the top three players from 2018 (Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister) are all gone. Now the tight end roster will look like this:

Ben Watson
Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Matt LaCosse
Stephen Anderson
Ryan Izzo
Andrew Beck

Anderson was brought in at midseason in 2018 but didn’t catch a pass. Izzo spent the season on IR. The team brought in free agents Watson, Seferian-Jenkins, and Lacosse this spring as well as the UDFA Beck.

The learning curve for Watson should be very short, after spending six seasons in Foxboro with Brady, re-learning the offense should be fairly easy for him despite his being gone for so many years.

Obviously, the hope is Watson can give them veteran leadership and together with Seferian-Jenkins provide them with enough production to at least replicate what they had a year ago and hopefully more.

Watson is a solid run blocker and together he and Seferian-Jenkins with Lacosse should provide the offense with enough targets to go around. Other than the missed season of 2016 with an injury, Watson has been durable and has always been on the field. The knock on Seferian-Jenkins is that he’s hurt all too frequently, but has never played with a QB like Brady.

In his career, Watson has played in 195 games with 135 starts. He has 530 career catches for 5885 yards and 44 touchdowns.

Adding Watson should give a nice short-term boost to the tight end position. And perhaps, like Patrick Chung proved a few years ago, you can go home again.

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

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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]


Listen to ourPatriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself fromPatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Announce Jersey Numbers For 2018 Rookie Class

Robert Alvarez
August 9, 2018 at 6:25 pm ET

For the first time in their NFL careers, the New England Patriots 2018 rookie class was officially assigned jersey numbers on Thursday.

The full list, which is still subject to change, has number assignments that align more closely with each players respective position as opposed to the “non-traditional” numbers the rookies donned since their first days in pads this past spring.

At the start of training camp, most rookies wore numbers in the 50’s and 60’s, making it difficult for observers to differentiate between them and the veterans.

According to 985 The Sports Hub’s Matt Dolloff, the Patriots active roster is still dealing with duplicate numbers for multiple players, but they aren’t on the same side of the ball when viewing tonight’s game.

The full list is as followed

5 – Quarterback Danny Etling

7 – Punter Corey Bojorquez

14 – Wide Receiver Braxton Berrios

22 – Running Back Ralph Webb

29 – Running Back Sony Michel

33 – Cornerback A.J. Moore

34 – Cornerback J.C. Jackson

35 – Cornerback Keion Crossen

42 – Cornerback Duke Dawson

44 – Linebacker Christian Sam

45 – Defensive End Trent Harris

48 – Fullback Henry Poggi

51 – Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley

76 – Offensive Lineman Isaiah Wynn

85 -Tight End Ryan Izzo

92 – Defensive Tackle Frank Herron

97 – Defensive Tackle John Atkins

New England Patriots 2018 Training Camp Primer – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
June 29, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Gronkowski and Who Else?

The Patriots have a bunch of interesting tight end possibilities on the roster this season after Rob Gronkowski and the competition in training camp will ultimately tell the tale on who stays and who goes. Although the big news all spring was that Rob Gronkowski along with Tom Brady was staying away from the “voluntary” workouts, the star tight end was on hand for mandatory minicamp and looked in excellent condition.

There were also some rumblings that the Patriots tried to trade Gronkowski just prior to the draft, having had contact with several teams. But regardless, he is still here and he remains the best overall tight end in the NFL. The big question is now, who will back him up. Last year, the Patriots carried three tight ends with Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, and rookie Jacob Hollister.

We here would expect them to carry three again. And there are quite a few intriguing options for them to look to this year. And as we’ve already broken down the QB and WR positions, we’ll do the same here with the tight ends.

So, who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski is still the man in the NFL. He’s the guy that everyone tries to shut down and very few teams are able to do it with just one player, it usually revolves around multiple players having to get involved.

Last season, in 14 games he had a very Gronk-like 69 catches for 1084 yards and eight touchdowns receiving. He and Brady are always on the same page and they often communicate with simply a look or a slight hand signal at the line of scrimmage as they both see the field and how the defense is lining up extremely well and are always in sync with one another.

I would expect a new deal or an extension to get done with him sooner, rather than later that will keep him around Foxboro for the next couple of years, despite the offseason talk about him retiring.

Gronk has it all; size, speed, tremendous hands, he can line up all over the field from in the slot to split out wide and is a very good pass blocker and a devastating run blocker. Gronkowski is just 29 years old and the Patriots use him to create mismatches all over the field.

Near Roster Locks: Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen

Jacob Hollister after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Hollister made the team as a rookie UDFA in 2017 and played a little bit on offense but was a regular contributor on special teams. He’s got the speed and hands to challenge the seams but needed to bulk up, and get a little bit stronger as well as improve his run blocking this year.

Hollister had a very solid spring and looked very impressive in the passing game. He also appears to have bulked up a little bit and we’ll see if that translates into being a better run blocker. Putting on the pads will ultimately tell the tale but he appears ready to make that big Year 1-to-Year 2 jump that Bill Belichick always talks about.

Allen had a very disappointing year in the passing game in 2017. He was expected to replace some of the production of Martellus Bennett who signed with Green Bay as a free agent last year. But he caught just 10 passes and never seemed like he had a firm grasp of the passing game and was basically an afterthought most of the season.

But he remains a very good blocking tight end and a Bill Belichick favorite. Allen is carrying a $5 million cap hit for 2018, that is not guaranteed. However, the Patriots didn’t try to renegotiate his deal this spring. So read into that what you will.

On the Bubble: Troy Niklas, Will Tye

The Patriots brought in Niklas this spring and the first thing that stood out about him was his size. He’s comparable to Gronkowski in bulk (6’6, 270 pounds), although not in speed and athleticism. Many pegged Niklas to be a big target in the passing game when he entered the league with the Cardinals.

But it has never happened for “Hercules”, he’s been utilized as mostly a blocking tight end and he caught just 11 passes last season. But he remains a very solid blocking tight end and he could push Allen for that blocking TE spot since he has a much more manageable cap number. He looked good this spring in the positional work but in 11-on-11, he disappeared a bit. He’ll need to show more this summer once the pads come on and show more in the passing game.

The Patriots picked up WIll Tye last year and promptly stashed him on the practice squad. He had a nice spring and was getting open in the passing game, showing his athleticism. He made a beauty of a catch over Pat Chung during minicamp while we were there and it is worth noting that he was a two-year starter for the Giants catching 90 passes in 2015-2016.

Longshots: Ryan Izzo, Shane Wimann

Izzo and Wimann face long odds to make the roster but could be candidates for the Patriots practice squad in 2018. Izzo is a very good blocking tight end and will be competing with Allen and Niklas as the blocking tight end. He’s got good size at 6’5, 256 pounds.

Wimann is listed at 6’4, 252 pounds but seems a bit lighter than that, but when standing next to Gronkowski, Niklas and Allen, everyone looks thin. He’s a small school tight end (Northern Illinois) who caught 30 passes for 283 yards and a school-record 7 touchdowns receiving in 2017. He’s a long shot but we’ve seen crazier things. The problem for he and Izzo will be the chance to show much on the field will be very limited with so many tight ends in camp.

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

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