What the New England Patriots have at tight end remains a projection after the 2020 season.
That projection is still waiting to turn into production in the passing game.
No depth chart of tight ends around the NFL combined for fewer receptions than New England’s 18. Only the Carolina Panthers’ Cheap Ian Thomas Jersey, Cheap Chris Manhertz Jersey and Cheap Colin Thompson Jersey finished with fewer yards than New England’s 254. And in terms of touchdowns, the New York Giants’ Evan Engram, Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo tied New England’s group for last in the league with a total of one.
But not for a lack of movement.
Last April’s draft saw the Patriots invest a pair of selections in the position. Devin Asiasi out of UCLA heard his name called at No. 91 overall. Dalton Keene out of Virginia Tech followed at No. 101 overall. They’d be the second and fourth tight ends off the board, in the company of Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet to the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati’s Josiah Deguara to the Green Bay Packers.
“Kind of a double-up at the position there, but two young players that hopefully when we get the opportunity to work with them can make some progress,” former Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said via video conference after the picks were made.
NFL: OCT 25 49ers at Patriots
After selecting UCLA’s Asiasi at No. 91 overall, the Patriots selected Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene … [+] ICON SPORTSWIRE VIA GETTY IMAGES
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The New England war room hadn’t drafted a tight end higher since trading up in the second round for Arizona product Rob Gronkowski the previous decade.
Both Asiasi and Keene would spend time on injured reserve during their rookie years. Between roles on the line and detached from it, they played a collective 353 offensive snaps. Yet they were not in uniform for the same game until Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams.
“Both those players missed time this year and had a long way to go making progress,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on a December conference call. “But it’s just really day-to-day consistency and techniques, better understanding of what we’re doing and better awareness of what the defense does. So, they’ve learned a lot, they’ve made a lot of progress this year, but there’s obviously still a long way to go.”
The 6-foot-3, 257-pound Asiasi accounted for the depth chart’s lone touchdown from quarterback Cam Newton in the finale versus the New York Jets. He turned two of his seven targets on the campaign into 39 yards. As for Keene, the 6-foot-4, 251-pounder turned five targets into three catches and 16 yards.
According to Pro Football Focus, Asiasi and Keene averaged .48 and .21 yards per route run, respectively, which placed outside the league’s highest 100 at the position.
Ryan Izzo, a seventh-round draft choice from Florida State in 2018, began the year as New England’s starter and finished it with 13 receptions on 20 targets for 199 yards. Those numbers led the way for the team’s tight ends despite his placement on injured reserve after a dozen appearances. From there, the 23-year-old Asiasi and the 21-year-old Keene finished the schedule as the only members on the active roster after ex-Houston Texan and Arizona Cardinal Jordan Thomas was waived.