The Patriots wrapped up their mandatory minicamp last week and are holding a few more OTAs this week before they break until training camp. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski attended all three days of the session and both looked as though they hadn’t missed a beat, though it remains to be seen if they will show up at the voluntary workouts this week. That being said, I will be continuing my positional breakdown of the 2018 Patriots roster by looking at the tight ends.
Projected Locks (1): Rob Gronkowski
Long Shots/Practice Squad (2): Ryan Izzo, Shane Wimann
Despite the crazy trade rumors that circulated on social media Friday, it has been all but confirmed that Rob Gronkowski will indeed be a Patriot for the duration of the 2018 season. Coming off a season in which he tallied over 1,000 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns and received a first-team All Pro selection, the star tight end is in line to see an increased workload with the departure of Brandin Cooks plus Julian Edelman’s four game suspension. The other six tight ends are fighting for what likely amounts to either one or two spots on the active roster.
Dwayne Allen proved himself to be a reliable run blocker last season, but tallied only 10 catches for 86 yards and one touchdown on 22 targets as he never seemed to click with Tom Brady. Allen could earn himself a roster spot if he demonstrates a marked improvement in his receiving abilities, but the team will likely be reluctant to keep his $5 million cap hit on the books if he is only able to contribute as a blocker.
If that proves to be the case, the Patriots would likely be more inclined to keep former Arizona Cardinal Troy Niklas as the designated blocking tight end. Niklas, a former second round draft pick with a frame similar to Rob Gronkowski’s, has tallied only 200 yards and 3 touchdowns over his four year career and would likely be limited to blocking duties in the Patriots’ two tight end sets. Niklas will likely only make the roster if Allen is unable to show improvement as a receiver and/or if he is able to impress the coaching staff with his own receiving ability. Niklas and Allen are fighting for essentially the same role, but Niklas has the edge because he is over $4 million cheaper than Allen.
Jacob Hollister and Will Tye fit more into the ‘move’ tight end role; their primary contributions would come as receivers instead of blockers. Hollister has reportedly looked good during offseason workouts and likely has the edge over Tye because of his special teams value; he played in over 40% of the Patriots’ special teams snaps last year. Tye is an interesting story as he was the New York Giants’ starting tight end in 2015 and 2016, where he totaled over 850 receiving yards. After spending most of last season on the Patriots’ practice squad, Tye could earn himself a roster spot by demonstrating improvement as a blocker and being able to contribute on special teams. Unfortunately, it does seem like Hollister has an advantage over him in both of those categories.
One dynamic that is worth noting when it comes time for the Patriots to finalize their 53-man roster is they also have a pretty deep wide receiver room. While the Patriots will keep at least two tight ends, it is possible that the third tight end spot might be dropped in favor of keeping an extra receiver. With Julian Edelman out for the first four games, the Patriots could opt to carry another receiver/punt returner such as Braxton Berrios or Riley McCarron in lieu of a tight end. So as you evaluate the tight ends and wide receivers during the preseason, keep in mind that they could be competing against one another for a spot on the roster.
In the end, unless Dwayne Allen shows significant improvement as a receiver during training camp, I believe that the Patriots will end up carrying only two tight ends to start the year while carrying an extra receiver/returner to fill in during Edelman’s absence.
Roster (2): Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister
Cut (4): Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas, Shane Wimann, Will Tye
Practice Squad (1): Ryan Izzo
Stay tuned next week, as I will discuss the Patriots’ offensive tackle situation!
(Author’s Note: Contract data via Spotrac.com, stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com)