New England Patriots 53-man 2018 Roster Projection v1.0: Tight Ends and Fullbacks
By Hal Bent
As we head toward the regular season, here is an early look at what the New England Patriots might look like at the tight end position.
Part one of 12 for the New England Patriots kicked-off with a look at the quarterback position and continued in part two with a look at the running back position. Part three continues with a look at the tight end and fullback position:
TIGHT END/FULLBACK: (4)
Starter: Rob Gronkowski
Back-up(s): James Develin, Troy Niklas, Jacob Hollister
Roster Bubble Boy(s): Dwayne Allen, Will Tye, Ryan Izzo, Shane Wimann
Rob Gronkowski is back in the fold as the least dramatic “will he retire or return” offseason drama has (mercifully) ended. Gronkowski is grossly underpaid compared to his production. Last year he had over 1,000 yards receiving and eight touchdowns in just 14 games. He is a playmaker on offense who commands attention from multiple defenders on every play. Expect New England to continue to throw a few million dollars in incentives at him this year and next offseason to keep him somewhat happier before contract negotiations get really ugly after 2019.
James Develin has carved out a role as a dependable short yardage blocker and special teams player. Another draft without a Larry Centers, Tom Rathman, Keith Byers or William Floyd at fullback should keep Develin safe in 2018.
Hollister was a premium undrafted free agent from Wyoming last season who showed an ability to find open seams during the preseason (12 receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown). He did make the roster and earn playing time with receptions in the first two games he played in week two and three. Hollister played just 86 snaps on offense, but was a regular contributor on special teams. He can catch the ball, but is still growing and learning as a tight end in the New England offense.
Niklas is intriguing pick-up as the former Notre Dame tight end has great size but was used as a blocker only in four years at Arizona. He has not lit up the stat sheet in Arizona but was used primarily in a blocking role like Allen was last year. Niklas has intriguing underdeveloped pass receiving abilities. This could be a coming-out party for the underrated player who at least saves the team over $4 million over Allen (per OvertheCap.com).
On the Bubble:
It is not such a sure thing for veteran tight ends Dwayne Allen and Will Tye to snag a roster spot. Tye was buried on the practice squad in 2017 and lacks athleticism. Allen failed to contribute in the passing game and was basically a blocking tight end. With the seventh-highest salary cap number on the team ($5 million) and completely not guaranteed (per OvertheCap.com), Allen is a luxury that the Patriots cannot afford with the versatile receiving skills of Jacob Hollister in position to make a second-year jump.
Seventh round draft pick Ryan Izzo and undrafted free agent Shane Wimann face long odds to make the roster. Wimann is a small school tight end with average athleticism and did not produce big numbers playing in the MAC at Northern Illinois. He has good size and pass catching skills but is limited as a blocker.
Izzo is a solid blocker and would be competing with Niklas and Allen as the back-up behind Gronkowski (Hollister is more of a move tight end and smaller in size). Niklas offers more in the passing game than Izzo (who is limited in route-running and did not show soft hands on college tape) or Allen, and Allen has the big cap hit as well (which probably should go to Gronkowski to pay him a fair price for his production).
Next: 2018 Quarterback roster projections
Youth and athleticism lead the projection for the roster spots behind Gronkowski. Tye and Allen are known quantities and neither is going to contribute much in the passing game. A step forward in training camp by Hollister could add a mid-range receiving threat in the “joker” tight end role and Niklas is talented as a blocker and has more receiving skills than Allen and has a chance to open some eyes with a fresh start in New England.