PATS REPORTER

Perry: Why the Patriots should unleash Asiasi vs. Broncos

PATS REPORTER

We knew it was going to take some time. We knew rookie tight end Devin Asiasi wasn't going to light it up as a receiver right off the bat.

Going from the college to the pro game at that position is a challenge. Learning all that the Patriots throw at that position -- from run-blocking to receiving to pass-blocking -- is a challenge. And doing it without a typical offseason makes it even more, well, challenging. 

Rob Gronkowski himself didn't have overwhelming success at the start of his rookie season. Through four games, he had seven catches. So for Asiasi to have put together a quiet first month in the NFL should come as no surprise.

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Still -- based on his physical tools and the opportunity that seemed to be out there for him after the Patriots traded up to nab him in the third round -- we projected a nice statistical year for him by season's end.

But after four games, Asiasi has been more than quiet as a receiver. He's been silent. He has yet to see a target in 57 offensive snaps, 20 of which resulted in him running a route.

Entering the draft out of UCLA, he was considered among the top run-blocking tight ends in the class. That's how he's spent most of his time on the field this season. He was considered to have real receiving chops, as well, but he hasn't had much of an opportunity to show them off. 

"It happens the way the game's played out and stuff," tight ends coach Nick Caley said of Asiasi's lack of receiving production. "Dating back to training camp, Devin does a good job route-running wise. He has production in practice going back to early training camp. He's not just a one-trick pony from that regard. He's working hard at both facets of his game. Not just in the run-blocking. Obviously, that's critically important, but also as a route-runner too."  

 

If ever there was a time to see what Asiasi can do through the air, this weekend may be it. 

The Broncos aren't bad against the run, coming in at fifth in the NFL in expected points added per rush. That doesn't mean the Patriots will abandon their running game, but it does mean they may have to rely more on Cam Newton's arm and the pass-catchers around him than they'd usually like.

Though Patriots tight ends are the least-targeted tight end group in the NFL this season, they could see an uptick in passes sent their way against Vic Fangio's defense. Only six defenses have seen a greater percentage of targets thrown to tight ends so far in 2020 -- which would indicate there's a perceived vulnerability there -- and when offenses have run multiple tight ends onto the field, the Broncos have had issues. Against 12 personnel, they give up 9.3 yards per pass attempt and a passer rating of 139.6.

According to PFF, the Broncos don't have an off-ball linebacker or safety who ranks higher than 29th in coverage grade this season (safety Justin Simmons). Linebacker Josey Jewell -- who ran a 4.8-second 40 at the NFL Combine in 2018 -- and safety Kareem Jackson could be viewed as nice matchups for Asiasi should he find himself working against them. Jewell is allowing 10.4 yards per catch this season, and Jackson is giving up a 120.5 quarterback rating when targeted.

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Asiasi may be called upon to pass protect a bit, as Fangio has dialed up more blitzes this year to try to generate pressure without Von Miller. But if the Patriots can get Asiasi a few targets, even after a strange two weeks with limited on-the-field practice, it could benefit them beyond Sunday. 

The trade deadline is November 3. Having a fuller picture of what the team has in -- and what it needs from -- its pass-catchers should give Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio a better idea of how to approach any potential deals in a couple of weeks. Getting Asiasi more than the eight snaps he saw against the Chiefs should help provide that fuller picture.

The talent is there. The matchup is favorable. Feels like the right weekend to give the rookie tight end a little more work.