Patriots Draft Prospect Preview: Bad year to need a No. 1 TE

Andy Hart
April 06, 2020 - 5:37 pm
Categories: 

Between now and the scheduled April 23rd opening of the 2020 NFL Draft, WEEI.com will take a position-by-position look at the prospects in this year’s class, both in terms of a general overview as well as from a Patriots perspective.

Listen to your team news NOW.

Tight end

Supply-and-Demand Overview: With Rob Gronkowski retiring a year ago, the tight end position was an absolutely abysmal disaster for the Patriots last fall. Veteran signing Ben Watson was suspended to start the year before “leading” the position with 17 catches for 173 yards in 10 games played with eight starts. Matt LaCosse battled injury on the way to just 13 catches for 131 yards and a score in 11 games with eight starts. After missing his rookie season to IR, Ryan Izzo’s sophomore effort included just six catches for 114 yards and a score in six games with four starts. None of the three offered much in terms of the blocking game. The Patriots might just as well have not had tight ends a year ago. Unfortunately, the 2020 NFL Draft doesn’t offer much at the position, either in terms of high-end talent or depth. After watching Iowa teammates T.J. Hockenson (No. 8 overall) and Noah Fant (No. 20) go in the first round last spring, it’s unlikely a tight end will get the call on the first night of this year’s Draft. While tight end may be New England’s top overall need, the overall talent just isn’t that impressive in this prospect class.

Top Prospect: Cole Kmet, Notre Dame. Someone has to be the best at the position and Kmet, who is far from an elite prospect, is that guy. NFL.com has him near the bottom of its top 50 prospects overall. Nothing jumps out about Kmet. He’s a decent athlete. Has good size. Put up OK production for the Irish. A former baseball player, Kmet might be a solid No. 2 NFL tight end. But in this year’s class, he’s the best option for teams like the Patriots looking to fill the No. 1 tight end void on the depth chart.

Overrated Prospect: Thaddeus Moss, LSU. This may be more of a Patriot Nation name recognition thing because of what Moss’ father, Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss, did in New England. The reality is that the younger Moss is a pretty run-of-the-mill tight end prospect who is now dealing with a foot injury. He had one year of production after transferring to LSU. He’s nothing special as either a receiver or a blocker. Yet, because of his name and the team’s need at the position, Moss has been lusted after by some Patriots fans.

Underrated Prospect: Adam Trautman, Dayton. Transitioning from quarterback to tight end at a school that hasn’t had a player drafted since the 1970s, Trautman is a bit of an underdog. But his size, athletic ability and the way he performed at the Senior Bowl have put him in the conversation as one of the better all-around tight end prospects in this lackluster class. There will be a big jump in competition level, but Trautman has the size, attitude and upside to be a solid selection on the second night of the draft.

Wild Card: Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic. The Mackey Award winner had impressive college production and is a move-TE prospect with upside in an NFL passing game. He’s not the biggest or fastest prospect, but he has proven he can make plays, at least in a college passing game. Bryant isn’t overly flashy, but he may just find a role as a productive complementary option in the right NFL offense.

Wild Card II: Dalton Keene, Virginia Tech. Keene is a late-round option who is more of a versatile, try-hard, special teams guy than a true tight end prospect. He put up solid all-around numbers at the Combine, which makes up for a career with limited production in the passing game. NFL.com’s profile of Keene emphasizes his “make-it-in-the-league play traits and mental makeup of a Day 3 target.” Sounds like a Patriots type prospect, whether it be as a tight end, special teamer, fullback, H-back or some combination of all of those roles for a team with a boatload of late picks.

Possible Patriots: Cole Kmet, Notre Dame; Adam Trautman, Dayton; Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic. A year ago Hockenson entered the draft as maybe the best all-around tight end prospect since Gronkowski. There is no one even close to that class of prospect in this year’s draft. Of course things can change when guys get to the NFL, as 49ers former fifth-round pick George Kittle proved becoming the best in the game at the tight end position. The Patriots absolutely need to draft a tight end and absolutely need to find the right guy who can have a positive impact on their post-Tom Brady offense. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Trautman. There will be a transition phase, but he has upside. Kmet is good all around and probably has a solid pro career in front of him, but as the perceived top prospect at the position he may get overdrafted. Bryant probably won’t ever be a dominating blocker, but he certainly could help out a young quarterback with his productive hands and decent ability to run after the catch.

Estimated chances the Patriots take a TE at No. 23: 3

Estimated chances the Patriots take a TE at some point in the 2020 NFL Draft: 99

Related: How low does Jarrett Stidham rank among possible NFL starting QBs?