The New England Patriots selected two tight ends in back-to-back draft selections: UCLA’s Devin Asiasi and Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene. Can they become the new Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez?
It was a chance to revive a position the Patriots made one of the most important offensive positions just 10-years ago. And they needed to address the position direly after Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse combined for 245 yards and two touchdowns on 19 catches. After years of Rob Gronkowski, and the short Aaron Hernandez stint, Izzo and LaCosse looked like the Walmart version of the dynamic duo. The Patriots created a dominant duo, and gave birth to the two tight end dominant passing team. The question is now, can Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi rekindle that dominance?
Tight end is the one of the toughest positions in football for a rookie to make an instant impact. There’s a steep learning curve that is necessary, given what tight ends are asked to do with blocking assignments and pass catching. Not to mention the Patriots are never a franchise to put a ton of faith in rookie impact, but it’s clear the intention was to recreate that duo, as they took two tight ends in key rounds with differing skill sets.
The Patriots tight ends last season were just bad on all fronts last season. The blocking game and the receiving game faltered due to LaCosse and Izzo being non-factors. It was an obvious need that Belichick addressed. Here is how Asiasi and Keene can become the next Gronk and Hernandez.
Devin Asiasi, UCLA
Asiasi is a dynamic receiving tight end. A former four-star prospect who bounced around from Michigan to UCLA, but failed to live up to his heavy recruiting expectations. His junior season was the best to date, finishing with 44 catches, 641 yards and four touchdowns. He clearly lacked some consistency in his game.
What he did have was a tremendous athletic ability that a lot of tight ends don’t have. He has the size to cut across the field, box out safeties and cornerbacks, and make difficult catches. He also has the speed to get vertical and out run linebackers up field. He’s a match up nightmare.
Asiasi projects as the future Hernandez. He hasn’t shown a lot of ability in the blocking department, and that is something he’ll need to do to become a true Patriot, as Bill Belichick doesn’t tolerate players who can operate with some versatility. But Asiasi is definitely fitting for the modern tight end mold of the Hernandez, Jimmy Graham or Travis Kelce type.
Dalton Keene, Virginia Tech
Comparing Gronk to Dalton Keene is unfair, as about three inches and 20 pounds separates the two of them. But Keene is a jack-of-all-trades kind of tight end that can operate on the line of scrimmage, or as a fullback in different positions. He’s quick, and finds space really well in the passing game.
But Keene’s key is in his blocking. LaCosse was a terrible pass blocker last season, and Izzo wasn’t consistent enough to get significant playing time. The two mainly operated as pylons on the football field. Keene’s versatility allows him to be used in different situations, and have an impact on every offensive down for the Patriots.
Here is the perfect example of just one way Keene can be effective in a different role. As an H-back, he’s able to carve out this hole for Virginia Tech running back. That wasn’t the kind of execution the Patriots had last season, but it’s the kind they’re looking to replicate in 2020 with a new tight end tandem.
The Patriots felt the tight end was a crucial position to upgrade, and took two in the NFL Draft. It will take some time to find out if they will be the new Gronkowski and Hernandez, but they certainly have the tools to be an effective and versatile duo in Foxboro.