Building The Big Board: Tight Ends and H-Backs

With the recent additions at the position, will the Patriots still look to draft a Tight End.

With the recent additions at the position, will the Patriots still look to draft a Tight End.

NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken

Part two of the Building the Big Board has had an interesting path to this point. I had Tight End as a much higher priority when I started putting together this post, then the Patriots made a series of moves that required a bit of a revision to the article and to the board. When I originally wrote this, I thought the team might actually look at double dipping at the position, now they may not draft a Tight End at all. If they do, however, here are the guys that I like for the Patriots from this draft class.

The Tight End position has become more complicated over the years. We don’t just have your traditional big guy who blocks but can also go out and make the occasional catch. Now teams implement several different types of players at the position. The Patriots are a team who like to run two Tight End sets because it seems they feel it creates ideal match ups with today’s smaller, faster defenses. Luckily for us fans, the team has the best Tight End in the game today  and with the moves they have made this off season, they have an opportunity to have one of the best Tight End tandems in recent memory. Bennett and Harbor are on one year deals, so taking a Tight End is not completely out of the question, but the priority does become lower. Here are some options at the position that fit the Patriots scheme.

POSITION: Tight End

PRIORITY: Low to Medium/Low

CURRENT ROSTER:

Rob Gronkowski (age 26, signed through 2020)

Martellus Bennett (age 29, signed through 2016)

Clay Harbor (age 28, signed through 2016)

A.J. Derby (age 24, signed through 2018)

Mike Williams (age 25, signed through 2016)

POSITION OVERVIEW:

Similar to the last couple of draft classes, this one is considered weak.  I don’t feel there is any player at the position that warrants a first round pick and most of these players have glaring weakness, either on or off the field. With the additions the Patriots have made, they do not have to draft a Tight End, but if one of these players with upside happens to fall, they could draft him and allow him a year to develop.  The signings of Bennett and Harbor give them that type of flexibility and might be the best route for these players in terms of long term success. Basically, I am trying to convince myself that the Patriots will still draft one of my favorite players in this draft.

Tight Ends/H-Backs with a draftable grade:

Tyler Higbee- Western Kentucky (6’6″, 249 Lbs.): If you have followed me at all, you know Higbee is one of my draft “binkies” and I am fully aware that I am higher on him than most. To me, he may be the only Tight End in this class that has a chance to be special. Where he differs for me than the other guys in this class is his explosion and his ability to get open in a variety of ways. He is aggressive in his route running and has the short area quickness and movement skills to create separation consistently, which no other Tight End in this class can do. The big knock with him on the field is his blocking. If you watch him, you will see that his technique does need work, but you will also see that he blocks with great effort and intensity. While his blocking is underdeveloped, I think over time, he will be considered a good blocker. Higbee is also coming off a knee injury and at his pro day he said he was at about 75 to 80 percent, which could knock him down some teams draft boards. To me, this just gives some lucky team to get a draft steal. (2nd round grade)

Jerell Adams-South Carolina (6’5″, 247 Lbs.): Adams is an athletic guy with good height and long arms. He has great straight line speed and could be a real weapon as a pass catcher going down the seam. He shows soft hands and the ability to go up and make contested catches.  Much like Higbee, Adams blocking needs work, but the effort is there. Adams is a little stiff in an out of his routes and while he has long speed, he does not possess good short area quickness. Adams also needs to bulk up and add strength as defenders were able to knock him around in college and that will continue in the NFL. (3rd/4th round grade)

Austin Hooper-Stanford (6’4″, 254 Lbs.): The best way to describe Hooper is good at everything, great at nothing. He has good combination of size and movement skills. Hooper tracks the ball well and has reliable hands. He is one of the more effective blockers in this draft as well. Hooper lacks elite speed and change of direction to create space consistently and his role in the NFL might be as a complimentary piece. He is a younger player who still needs refinement in almost every phase of the game and does not have any elite traits that would warrant a higher pick. Hooper is a hard worker and will maximize him talent and should end up a solid piece on offense. (4th round grade)

Thomas Duarte-UCLA (6’2″, 231 Lbs.): Duarte is a guy I wrote up earlier this year. If you would like to read my report on him, please click on the link: http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2016/03/scouting-report-thomas-duarte-tewr.html (5th/6th round grade)

Devon Cajuste-Stanford (6’4″, 234 Lbs.): Despite being a Wide Receiver in college, I think a move to H-back might make the most sense for Cajuste. He is an aggressive route runner and uses his size to his advantage when creating separation. He tracks the ball well and catches everything that is thrown his way. He is good in traffic and fights to make the contested catch. Doesn’t have the speed to play WR but is good enough to play H-Back. Obviously moving from WR to TE will have its challenges, mainly learning how to be an effective blocker. (6th round grade)

Temmarick Hemmingway (6’5″, 244 Lbs.) A small school prospect with intriguing measureables and upside. He looks like a supersized Wide Reciever more than a Tight End and will be used that way in the NFL. He has a nice combination of size, speed and movement in and out of his cuts. Hemmingway will need to continue to add bulk to his frame.  He has a lot of work to do to be considered even an adequate blocker. He is a project, but could develop into an offensive weapon over time. (6th/7th round grade)

Ben Braunecker- Harvard (6’3″, 250 Lbs.): Braunecker has a good combination of size and speed for the position. He is a smart player who shows good awareness to find soft spots in the zone. He is an above average route runner with soft hands and a large catch radius. He shows good quickness at the snap and good speed to create separation downfield. He comes from the Ivy league and needs to add strength to be able to handle the jump in physicality. (6th/7th round grade)

David Morgan-UT-San Antonio (6’4″, 262 Lbs.): Morgan has excellent size and bulk. He has reliable hands and was the go to guy on offense. He uses his size to block out defenders and giving his QB a large target. Morgan shows a good ability to make the tough catches in traffic and will deliver blows to smaller defenders. He may be the best in line blocker in this draft and could have a large role as a blocking Tight End at the next level. Morgan lacks speed and is stiff when running routes and may never have more than a bit role in the passing game. (7th round grade)

Interesting UDFA Prospects:

David Grinnage- North Carolina St. (6’5″, 248 Lbs.)

Beau Sandland-Montana State (6’4″, 253 Lbs.)

Tanner McEvoy-Wisconsin (6’6″, 231 Lbs.)

James Vander Laan- Ferris State (6’3″, 240 Lbs.) QB convert from small school.

 

*Note: Dan Vitale and Glenn Gronkowski could have been on this list, but I included in my HB/FB big board that will be coming out shortly.

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31 Responses to “Building The Big Board: Tight Ends and H-Backs”

  1. uknepatsfan says:

    This year’s TE class is weak.

    I would leave it alone this draft. I liked AJ Darby last year so I was pleasantly surprised when they drafted him.

    Pats don’t need 11 picks so rather than wasting 1 on mediocre TE’s I’d rather they packaged picks to be able to move up in the 2nd round to grab Vollmer’s replacement for next season.

    To me, this is the most important need in the draft and if the Pats want a good one they can’t afford to leave it till the end of the 2nd to get a starting calibre tackle.

  2. EdgeX says:

    I know he’s your binky Mike but no way the Pats pick Tyler Higbee in the 2nd or 3rd round this year – maybe if they trade a 3rd round pick back for more picks they could get him in the 4th.

    Still…with the injury there might be a chance he’s just “one of those guys” that slips through the cracks and is there in the 6th for the Pats to pick *crosses fingers with Mike*

    😉

    P.S. Ditto what Russell said – I like Nick Vannett too in the 4th round

  3. Russell says:

    Hmmm….. No love for my guy, TE Nick Vannett Ohio State. I like him, not sure where he falls in the draft 4th round I think.

    • Mike Gerken says:

      I like Vennett, obviously he is much more polished as a blocker than receiver. Where I think he will go just did not match up with my grade, so I left him off.
      With the position being so full of veterans, I could only warrant one day 2 TE on the Big board. If Vennett were to fall to Day 3, then I would not have an issue with him being drafted.
      This exercise requires you make tough decisions. If I am going to justify a TE early in this draft, he has to be an offensive weapon. I have faith that staff can coach up a player to be at least a functional blocker. Athleticism cannot be taught, so yeah, Vennett did not make the cut.

  4. GM-in-Training says:

    Hypothesis: Depth at Tackle has a lot to do with Pats TE strategy

    One of the benefits of having 3 or more very good blocking TE is to slow down some of the very strong defensive lines (Denver, NYJ, Miami).

    Really-good blocking TE can bolster OT that are hurt or subbing for a starter.

    That begs the question; What’s really the Pat’s depth at OT?

    Cannon, Waddle and Fleming…didn’t get it down last season against Denver.

    I’ve been assuming that means trading up to early 2nd round and drafting a top-5 OT prospect. What if Cannon’s miserable play last season was because of injury? I read today that Cannon had a toe injury that hampered his kick slide during the playoffs. That…kind of explains a lot.

    If you were BB, would you feel comfortable with the OT depth you’ve got right now (and the hoped for boost of OL coach Scarnecchia), or would you think you needed to go big on new blood?

    • steve earle says:

      Even allowing for ? injury of Cannon last year I for one am not comfortable with our OT depth. I also must add I hadn’t seen the kind of play from Cannon hoped for even before the end of last year while Fleming seems only a carrear backup. Waddel we saw so little of who knows? Now as for a top 5 OTs Spriggs might slip into the top of the 2nd if we are very lucky but wonder if BB will actually trade upour 2 seconds to grab him? Wouldn’t mind, just wonder?

  5. carlo strada says:

    No love for Bryce Williams??

    • Mike Gerken says:

      Carlo,
      He graded out for me as a 6th/7th round pick, but I had to make some tough decisions on who to keep in and who to leave out. Williams is a good pass catcher, but he lacks speed and athleticism and his upside seems too limited for me to draft. The guys I have as late round flyers have some athletic upside that I could see develop. I picked David Morgan over Williams because of his blocking.

  6. Todti says:

    I think the TE position is one of the more interesting ones because it seems to be “solved“ for this season but the Patriots’ long-term strategy is still hazy.
    I’d say it’s safe to assume there will be 4 spots for TEs and FB. I could have seen them go heavy on TE sets in lieu of WRs, but with Edelman, Amendola, Hogan, Martin, Washington, and maybe even a rookie the position just seems to be too crowded for that at this point. So 4 spots to fill, minus 1 because of Gronk, obviously. Also, Bennett should be on the roster considering they traded for him. However, barring exceptional things happen, he won’t be a Patriot after this season as he’s going to be either productive and thus too expensive for Bill’s liking or the next Chandler (for different reasons, though). So 2 spots vacant for this season.
    However, considering the next season only Gronk and Derby are under contract and there’s no obvious second option in sight. Since the Patriots probably won’t draft an immediate contributor at TE next season (draft position, supply? [the class seems pretty good but maybe the best prospects will then be drafted before the Patriots’ picks], familiarisation,…) that leaves drafting this year and developing or FA and trades as the only options. Speculating about trades a year ahead is pointless, of course, but a look at FAs in 2017 is quite interesting. There are a couple of big names which the Patriots won’t sign – Eifert, Reed, Cameron, Walker – but there are also cheaper intriguing options, e.g. Luke Wilson. I think he could be a solid second option as a combination TE. The FA class is actually pretty deep right now.
    Anyway, we still have 2 spots to fill for this season with the depleted TE/FB position for 2017 in mind. Considering Harbor’s physical make up he might actually be more of a competition for Develin than Williams. However, all 3 of them are only signed through 2016, so the Patriots have no primary blocker under contract in 2017. Hence, if they draft a TE in 2016 who’s then going to be on the roster, it probably will be one who can step right in and fill the blocking role with upside as a receiver down the road. I’m not sure someone like that is available but I could see them draft Morgan and plug him into Williams’ role this season, with Harbor as the H-Back instead of Develin, and develop Morgan into an H-Back next season and draft a combination TE in 2017 who succeeds Williams/Morgan. That way they would assure to always have several good blockers while not neglecting the passing game as Morgan, who is a reliable but not athletic receiver, would be the worst option in the passing game in both 2016 and 2017. Of course, this would more or less work with Vitale instead of Morgan, too.

    On another note, Jerell Adams sounds like an option for the Saints or Colts and with Fleener moving to the Saints I could see the Colts draft Adams as his successor.

    • td says:

      I think we may see Bill line up 3-4 TE’s to counter the Jets, Fins & Bronco’s pass rush. Shade Miller and Ware with a TE to chip and Brady now has his 2-2.5 seconds to hit #11, 80, Hogan, Gronk and Bennett. Having an X receiver like LaFell or Dobson is a wasted position if he is looking to get the ball out in 2 seconds. There is not a D that has 2 man press CB’s along with multiple cover LB’s and Safeties. Denver is close, but I think the TE setup they are exploring can counter that rush and press coverage they employ. Going to be interesting to see the chess match.

      • Todti says:

        I agree, especially regarding the X receiver. So, does that mean you see them keeping Gronk, Bennett, Williams, and Harbor? Williams would be a sole blocker but Harbor out of the backfield could be both a dangerous receiving option and help in pass protection.

        • carlo strada says:

          Would Bill keep Develyn if Harbor gels up? Wish this be the case

        • td says:

          If Williams is on the team, I think he could be that extra OT in short yardage and goal line creating yet another possible target for defenses to worry about.

  7. Matt says:

    If they are gonna take a TE which I don’t think they need being that this is another weak TE class, don’t do it till late 6th or 7th round. Chances the draft pick makes the team are slim to none. If they are planning on stashing them in IR like they do most years with players who need further development then fine. But they need to allocate all draft resources in getting players who can come in and contribute almost right away @ OT, RB, CB & WR. Looking at the roster itself. They most likely can only keep 3 TE’s on the roster and that is going to be Gronk, Bennet and most likel Williams who is a good blocking TE who can also play tackle. Harbor and Derby are most likely depth camp bodies In case of injury.

    • Todti says:

      I’m not sure the Patriots can or will pick players who can contribute right away. That’s just not how it works in Foxborough. Apart from interior OL, where they apparently found their sweet spot in the 4th round but were also more or less forced to play them right away, and Brown/Easley, who were part of a rotation after being late 1st round picks, the last considerable contributor outside the 1st was probably Gronk. Before the signing of Knighton I thought they would draft a DT early with a similar role to Brown.
      The positions you name – and WR as a position of immediate contribution is debatable at least – just aren’t positions where rookies step in right away, not with the picks the Patriots usually have. Maybe a RB could have a Ridley-like role role as a rookie, but I’d guess that’s the ceiling.

  8. acm says:

    Dan Vitale, Dan Vitale, Dan Vitale.

    • Mike says:

      I wasn’t quite sure where to put Vitale. I decided to hold off and put him and Gronkowski with the HB/FB.

  9. GM-in-Training says:

    I agree Braunecker from Harvard may be interesting as a Move TE. Amongst TE, he was above average in EVERY physical test at the combine. To be a great Move TE, you have to have a mis-match advantage againts most LB, which he’s close to.

    If you look at NFL.com combine results tracker for TE and LB combined, Braunecker comes in #3 on 3-cone, #16 for 40 time, #14 for bench press, #6 for vertical, #7 for broad jump, #4 for 20-yard shuttle, and #1 for 60-yard shuttle.

    He’s not as fast or as strong as Hernandez was, though a little bigger, so it’s hard to say if he could develop into a proper mismatch threat. I could see a 6th rounder spent on him.

  10. steve earle says:

    Mike, How do you feel the report of Bennett’s knee surgery and loss of the 2016 season is going to effect the team, the draft and otherwise?

    • Todti says:

      Did I miss something or do you confuse Bennett and Scott Chandler? Chandler’s career is in limbo which his wife posted on Twitter.

      • steve earle says:

        Yes I did get them confused. Sorry about Chandler but for some reason ( maybe expecting bad news after all the good) I twisted them around in my mind. Sorry for the confusion guys.

    • Ryan says:

      Personally, I can’t see us drafting a tight end before Day 3, even with Chandler’s injury. We will still have 4 tight ends and Mike Williams on the roster, so I can’t imagine any kind of high pick being used. Maybe one young guy to push Derby, but that’s probably it.

      • Mike Gerken says:

        Chandler is no longer on this team, so his injury means very little.
        Like you, I see TE as a Day 3 option except for Higbee of course. Adams is intriguing, but the board would have to be pretty bare to take him before Day 3.

        • Ryan says:

          Yeah, I can’t agree on Higbee. I won’t argue his talent, but I’d consider him a poor fit this year based on need. I’d much rather spend our Day 2 picks on CB, OT, RB, and WR, and if those fail, then LB, DE, and DT.

      • steve earle says:

        Have to agree with you now that I got my brain untangled. There are just so many picks and our needs can’t all be fixed with vet signings so Bill will likely take best player available in one of the areas that need help and as of now TE isn’t on that list.

        • Mike Gerken says:

          I am fully aware that my blinders are on when it comes to Higbee. The nice thing is, while I grade him out as a 2nd round pick, I don’t think he goes before the 3rd. Small school and injury concerns will most likely push him down. He could become great value late round 3 or with a trade to get a 4th.
          My rankings aren’t necessarily where I think they will go, they are where they grade out for me and should go. This helps me identify value.

    • Mike Gerken says:

      Steve,
      Unless I missed some major news story, I have not heard anything about a knee injury to Bennett. There was a story last week about Scott Chandler having to hang it up because of his injury. Is this maybe what you were reading?

      • Cole Trickle says:

        As of April 5th, 2016 @ just shy of 2am on West Coast the CURRENT TIGHT END’S ON THE PATRIOTS ROSTER ARE 1.Rob Gronkowski, 2.Martellus ” Marty” Bennett, 3.Clay Harbor, 4.Mike Williams ( Picked Up From Detroit Last Year) , 5.AJ Derby ( Was Drafted Last Year in the 6th Rd and was then placed on Season Ending ” Injured Reserve ” ) FYI.. *Scott Chandler was CUT/RELEASED from the team 2 Months Ago and it’s just come out in last 2-3 days from his Wife that their bout 95% SURE HIS CAREER IS DONE OVER FOR GOOD Due to Too Many ” ACL ” Severe Repeated Tears on the same knee.

      • steve earle says:

        Sorry Mike I got all screwed up in my mind mixing Chandler for Bennett. Sometimes I just expect the worse . I lived through the 60’s and 70’s with the Pats and sometimes I get flash backs to those days.

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