The New England Patriots are starting a new era at the tight end position. After spending 2019 with one of the worst tight end groups in the NFL following the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the team drafted two players in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft to restock at the position.
The first tight they took was UCLA's Devin Asiasi (No. 91 overall). And some believe that the Patriots hit a "grand slam" with that selection.
The second tight end they took was Virginia Tech's Dalton Keene (No. 101 overall). And while Keene is the less-heralded prospect of the two, he has a quality that the Patriots often look for in their players: a great work ethic.
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Keene has been known as a hard worker throughout both his high school and college careers. And a story that Keene's high school coach Bret McGatlin likes to tell is about how Keene would approach working out during Virginia Tech's spring break.
Instead of going out on a trip or partying, Keene would return to Colorado from Virginia Tech and work out with his former high school team, as McGatlin explained to Steve Hewitt of The Boston Herald.
"Like this is usually spring break when most college kids were out partying, he’d be up in our weight room at 6:30 in the morning and he’d be coaching up the kids in the weight room every single year," McGatlin said. "That’s the kind of kid he is. He just wants to help out. You can tell the NFL won’t change Dalton. It’s just the way he is. He’s just a good, humble kid."
Because of that tireless drive to improve, McGatlin suspects that Keene will quickly become one of Bill Belichick's favorites in Foxboro. And he also expects that the Patriots will take advantage of Keene's ability to play multiple positions during his rookie season.
"The Patriots are going to love how he works," McGatlin said, per Hewitt. "He’s going to be one of those guys that I know, Belichick’s probably going to fall in love with … because he just works. They’re going to use Dalton the way Dalton should be used. This is me just talking out loud and thinking here, but I don’t think they brought him in just to be a blocker. He can do that and that’s why he’s so versatile, and he will block, but he can be a three-down player that can be out on the field all the time. He can do anything, so I think that’s part of why they traded up to get a guy that they think can probably be on the field every single down."
Versatility is certainly another quality that Belichick and the Patriots appreciate, as it gives them opportunities to mix up their formations and keep opposing defenses on their toes. So, it's easy to see why the head coach took Keene a bit earlier than many expected and even traded up to acquire his services.
Belichick and Josh McDaniels are two of the more innovative coaches in the NFL, so it will be intriguing to see how the Patriots ultimately deploy Keene. But given the issues they had at tight end last year along with the problems they had at fullback -- amid injuries, linebacker Elandon Roberts manned the position late in the year -- Keene may be a key role player who could find regular playing time.
And if he's as hard a worker as his former coaches say, he shouldn't need too much of an adjustment period as he transitions to the NFL.