Patriots

Prototypical Patriots: Time to pick up some Gronk insurance?

Prototypical Patriots: Time to pick up some Gronk insurance?

The Patriots have a situation on their hands. 

Their future Hall of Fame tight end hasn't yet popped his head in on the start of the team's offseason training program, and after making almost $11 million on an incentive-laden deal last season, it would come as no surprise if he would like to see his $8 million base salary for 2018 get bumped up. He's supposedly contemplating retirement. 

Though Gronkowski is still at the top of his game, his waffling means it's time for the Patriots to consider re-investing at his position. Though the upcoming draft isn't loaded with surefire Day 1 tight end options, the Day 2 crop is loaded. That could be where Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio strike, hoping to land their next do-it-all threat. 

Before we get to some names, let's lay out what the Patriots like at this spot. They've drafted 13 tight ends under Belichick, and some trends have emerged. Size, obviously, is important. The "prototype" falls in the 6-foot-4 range and a shade over 250 pounds. Big hands (about 10 inches) are also preferred. Athleticism matters, too. Quick 40 times (4.7-second range) and three-cone drills (7.0-second range) will help a player find his way onto the Patriots roster, as will an explosive vertical (35 inches or thereabouts). 

The Patriots probably won't find another Gronkowski any time soon. But by those parameters, they'll find a solid athlete with requisite size to handle the myriad tasks they ask their tight ends to execute. 

 

PROTOTYPES IN RANGE
DALLAS GOEDERT, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE, 6-5, 256 POUNDS


Goedert didn't run the 40-yard dash at the combine or at his pro day, leaving teams to either have him run privately or . . . make their best guess as to how fast he is. The issue? He played a lower level of competition so while he looks like a dominant force on tape, some of those plays have to be taken with a grain of salt. Goedert's height, weight, hand size (10 inches) and arm length (34 inches) give him the makeup of a true dual-threat tight end in the Patriots system. And though we don't know his 40, his other testing numbers -- 35-inch vertical, 121-inch broad, 7.02-second three-cone -- indicate he's an explosive and agile athlete. Gronkowski was bigger (6-6, 264) and tested slightly below Goedert when it comes to those measures (7.18 three-cone, 33.5-inch vertical, 119-inch broad). They did the same number of bench reps at the combine (23). 

MIKE GESICKI, PENN STATE, 6-5, 247 


Gesicki's build gives him the look of a bigger receiver rather than a tight end capable of handling in-line blocking duties. The Patriots have taken players in the 245-pound range, but they've been more compact tight ends like Daniel Graham (6-3, 248), Garrett Mills (6-1, 241) and Aaron Hernandez (6-2, 245). Unless Gesicki can pack more weight onto his frame, he'd probably fall into the "move" tight end category. Wherever he ends up, his rare athleticism will help. Gesicki's 4.54-second 40 would be the second-fastest among tight ends drafted by Belichick in New England (Ben Watson had a 4.53). Gesicki had a blazing three-cone (6.76 seconds) as well, which was almost a tenth of a second faster than Hernandez's. Explosiveness? Gesicki has you covered there, too. His 129-inch broad and 41-.5-inch vertical break the mold on typical tight end thresholds. Gesicki's frame is a question mark when it comes to his Patriots fit, but he checks every other physical marker the Patriots typically draft, including hand size (10 1/8 inches) and arm length (34 inches).

IAN THOMAS, INDIANA, 6-4, 259

 

Thomas hasn't received much hype leading up to the draft in part because he was injured last season and had just two years at Indiana. But physically he has it all: height, weight, length (34 1/8-inch arms) and hand size (11 1/2 inches). Athletically, he hits all Patriots marks and then some with a 4.74-second 40, a 36-inch vertical, 123-inch broad and a 4.20 short shuttle. His three-cone drill is a little slower than where they typically like (7.15 seconds), but it was still more than two tenths faster than Watson's. If the Patriots are willing to mold him into more of a technician when it comes to his blocking and route-running, he could end up as a true multi-purpose tight end in their system. 

IMPERFECT BUT INTRIGUING
HAYDEN HURST, SOUTH CAROLINA, 6-4, 250


Where to start here? When compared to some other tight ends Belichick drafted to New England, Hurst compares favorably. His 4.67-second 40-yard is a hair faster than Gronkowski's and a hair slower than Hernandez's. His 1.63-second 10-yard split was actually better than that of Hernandez (1.65) and 2006 third-rounder David Thomas (1.64). He showed some explosion in the broad jump (120 inches), recording a better distance than Graham (118), Thomas (109) and Hernandez (111), all of whom measured similarly at their respective combines. But Hurst's vertical (31 1/2 inches) and change-of-direction testing (7.19-second three-cone, 4.37 short shuttle) didn't wow anyone. He's also a little undersized in terms of what the Patriots typically draft (32 1/8-inch arms). He may be a first-round pick, but judging by Belichick's history, that might be a little early for the Patriots. 

MARK ANDREWS, OKLAHOMA, 6-5, 256

Andrews is an interesting prospect because he has a good combination of size and speed (4.58-second 40). His change-of-direction and explosiveness, however, don't necessarily indicate he's an ideal Patriots fit. His 7.34-second three-cone drill won't help him, his 31-inch vertical was unimpressive, his broad jump (113 inches) was about average in terms of what the Patriots have drafted in the past, and his 4.38-second short-shuttle was not blazing. Those aren't crippling numbers. The Patriots have drafted worse athletes. But Andrews is expected to go in the first couple of rounds, which may be a little rich for Belichick.

DALTON SCHULTZ, STANFORD, 6-5, 244 

Schultz is another long-but-light prospect at the position. And his athletic testing numbers don't necessarily match up with the number in the weight column. His 7.00-second three-cone is good, and his 120-inch broad jump indicates there's some explosion there. But his vert (32 inches), short-shuttle (4.40 seconds) and 40 time (4.75 seconds) are average or worse. For someone with his build, the Patriots might prefer to see a better athlete. His arm length (31 1/4 inches) and hand size (9 1/4 inches) aren't ideal, but he was a two-year starter in a pro-style offense and he's thought to be one of the best blockers at his position in the class. Those elements of Schultz's game may get the Patriots interested in the middle rounds. Wisconsin's Troy Fumagali is a similar player in terms of his willingness as a blocker and his size (6-5, 247). He might be a better fit athletically, but he hasn't been able to do any athletic testing during the pre-draft process because of injury. 

DURHAM SMYTHE, NOTRE DAME, 6-5, 253 

Smythe has the kind of experience as an in-line player that the Patriots would appreciate. And he comes from a program they respect. But when it comes to the measurables, Smythe profiles as a less athletic than a typical Patriots draft pick. Smythe's 40 time (4.81), vertical (31 inches), broad jump (110 inches), bench (18 reps), and three-cone (7.17 seconds) are all below average compared against other Patriots tight ends drafted since 2000. His hand size (9 1/4 inches) and arm length (31 3/4 inches) are also less than ideal. Smythe's tape may earn him a job on Day 3 of the draft, but his athleticism would put him on the outer edges of the range of player the Patriots have drafted in the past. 

WILL DISSLY, WASHINGTON, 6-4, 262 

Man, if you want a blocking tight end, this seems to be your draft. Dissly falls into the same category. And from a Patriots perspective, he looks the part of an in-line type. Athletically . . . that's another story. Dissly's vertical (28 inches), broad jump (111 inches), short-shuttle (4.4 seconds) and 40 time (4.87) aren't going to rocket him up draft boards. His three-cone is solid for someone his size (7.07 seconds), and his hands (9 3/4 inches) and arms (33 1/4 inches) meet the mark for the Patriots. Still, he's a Day 3 choice. 


NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Keionta Davis proving to be an intriguing pass-rush option for the Patriots

Keionta Davis proving to be an intriguing pass-rush option for the Patriots

FOXBORO -- After Keionta Davis folded up Eagles quarterback Joe Callahan for a sack in the waning seconds of Thursday's preseason game, he took a brief moment to himself. Rolling off of Callahan, Davis paused ever so quickly with his shoulders pinned on the turf before getting helped up. 

Davis couldn't be blamed for taking a short breather for himself, if that's what it was. He played more snaps than any other Patriots defender (54) -- a rare honor for a 6-foot-3, 280-pounder -- and it wasn't all in mop-up duty. 

The second-year defensive lineman started the game for the Patriots and ended it with a sack. He had 1.5 sacks on the night to go along with three more pressures and two stops in the running game. 

"Coaches just wanted me to get some reps," Davis said. "I gotta play. It's that simple."

The reason Davis has to play is that he hasn't played for quite some time. For ever player who may need a workload reduction this summer after having played a lot of football in 2017, there's a player like Davis who could use the extra work to knock off the layers of rust that have accumulated. 

Davis was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga last summer. He was a two-time All-American as a menace off the edge, and his talent was enough to reportedly coax Bill Belichick to Chattanooga to put Davis through a private workout. He had 31 sacks in college and was projected to be a mid-to-late round pick last spring, but he went unclaimed due to a bulging disc in his neck that was found in a physical at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

According to a story last May in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Davis had no idea anything was wrong. He finished the 2016 season as the Southern Conference defensive player of the year, and he participated in the Senior Bowl before getting the news.

The Patriots signed Davis last summer, but by the time the NFL's regular season rolled around, Davis was placed on the non-football injury/reserve list, ending his year before it began. 

That's what made Thursday night all the more special for the 24-year-old. His first sack in the fourth quarter was his first since last year's Senior Bowl. In the aftermath, he clapped his hands and looked up to the sky.

"It was relief," he said. "I didn't want to celebrate. I still got work to do, man. I'm not really trying to celebrate right now . . . Let me get through the rest of camp. More work to be done."

Davis' second sack (he was only credited with half sack on the play) came after powering back guard Darrell Green en route to his target. 

On both plays, it appeared that Davis was working as a three-technique -- off the outside shoulder of the offensive guard in front of him. Though he arrived to the Patriots as a true edge defender, listed at 260 pounds at the time, Davis has bulked up and spent plenty of time working from the interior this summer. 

"There's been a learning curve," he said. "I did put on some weight, up to 280 now, but my body feels great. I don't feel a difference. Moving inside everything moves a little bit quicker. It's something I haven't done before, but I'm asked to do it so I try to go in there and master it the best I can."

With good quickness and long arms, Davis is a natural fit to work against stubbier guards and centers. Especially in New England, where Trey Flowers -- another long-armed end -- has had great success as a disruptor from the inside. 

"I'm quicker than most guys on the inside" Davis said. "Got good length, I feel like. I think it uses my strengths to the best of my ability. And then I'm just learning from the guys who play inside. Malcolm Brown. Lawrence Guy's really helped whenever I'm inside. They give me the best tips they can."

For all the learning he did during his season off, for all the tutoring he's received from the veterans around him, playing time will continue to be critical.

Belichick indicated on Friday that while he's impressed by what Davis has done to this point, his young pass-rusher needs to log more minutes of game action. 

"He still has a long way to go," Belichick said. "He still has a lot of things he needs to improve on and refine and react quicker to and so forth, but that comes from not having actively played football for a year, or a little more than a year . . . 

"Hopefully those things will come back to him and his reactions and all will continue to improve. He's done a good job. He's in good condition. He's worked hard. I like what he's been doing."

Late on Thursday night inside the Patriots locker room, Davis entertained questions from multiple reporters, smiling often as he took his time with each. Even though he knew the game's score meant nothing, even though he said he knew he had plenty of work to do to earn a roster spot, he appeared to be enjoying the moment.

He was a long way from last year. 

"It definitely wasn't promised, and they definitely took a chance on me," Davis said. "Everything just worked out. I just want to show my gratitude by going out there and playing hard, competing. Whatever role they put me in, I'll try to do my best."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE