Bill Belichick has historically prioritized the tight end position, but will he be able to improve the Patriots' group in the most foggy offseason the Pats have had at the position in years?
Rob Gronkowski is tweeting about god knows what after reportedly considering retirement last training camp. Dwayne Allen wasn't good last season. Martellus Bennett could also retire or spend next season elsewhere.
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So, now would be a logical time for the Patriots to go after tight ends. Yet this draft class is not considered great at the position. Furthermore, there are no stars at the position set to be free agents, unless you're willing to bank on someone like Tyler Eifert staying healthy.
But let's focus on the draft for now. Belichick loves drafting tight ends. He's taken 12 of them over the years as Patriots coach, including the greatest to ever play the position in Gronkowski.
When looking through those 12 picks, however, it's pretty to easy to separate the good from the bad.
The good: The tight ends drafted in the first two rounds (Gronkowski, Daniel Graham, Benjamin Watson).
The bad: Every other tight end drafted by Belichick in New England, with the exception of Aaron Hernandez.
Belichick has drafted nine tight ends for the Patriots after the second round. Exactly two of them have recorded even a single regular-season catch for the Pats: Hernandez, who was a star but obviously fell to the fourth round for character concerns, and 2006 third-round pick David Thomas.
Thomas' best season as a Patriot? An 11-reception, 159-yard rookie campaign. He spent parts of three seasons with the Pats before being traded to New Orleans and finishing his career there.
So for as much as the Patriots like drafting tight ends, they're only good at it when they're picking from the very best prospects at the position higher in the draft. Graham, Watson and Gronkowski were all the second tight ends off the board in their respective drafts.
This year's class, as mentioned above, is considered unspectacular. South Carolina's Hayden Hurst is the only tight end believed to be a potential first-round pick, but he might be more of a second-round prospect. Mock drafts (which are stupid, but gosh they're fun) are mostly bereft of tight ends in the first.
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Mike Mayock ranks South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert, Penn State's Mike Gesicki, Oklahoma's Mark Andrews and Washington's Will Dissly behind Hurst to round out his top five at the position.
Tom E. Curran likes Goedert and Stanford's Dalton Schultz as potential fits for the Patriots. Goedert could be a fit with one of the team's second-round picks, but he'd need some grooming. One of the knocks on the player is that he isn't a very polished route-runner or blocker. Another is the lack of competition faced in college. Still, he's got good size (6-foot-5, 255 pounds), hands and is expected to run well.
At any rate, unless the Patriots are gaga for Hurst -- which is certainly a possibility given that they've got two picks in the vicinity of where he's expected to come off the board -- they won't be dealing with the caliber of prospect with whom they've had success in the past. The Patriots need a young tight end (or two). Getting one that will stick might not be so easy this year.