The Patriots have struggled and lacked production at tight end since Rob Gronkowski retired from the team in 2018. In 2021, the Patriots signed the top two free agents at the position in, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, to revamp their offense through two talented players, reinventing a successful duo they created in 2011.
That year, Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator for the Patriots in his first stint with the team. He utilized a two tight end set featuring Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that combined for 169 receptions for 2,237 yards and 24 total touchdowns.
O’Brien again has two versatile and athletic tight ends this season in Henry and Mike Gesicki, the Patriots’ big-ticket offseason acquisition for this offense.
This is a big season for the tight end position, as both Henry and Gesicki are set to be unrestricted free agents in 2024, leaving the future of the position unknown for the time being.
But it appears Belichick left the door open to re-signing them, as the Patriots elected not to draft a tight end in this most recent draft, despite having the reason, too, and the necessary capital to do so.
Let’s evaluate the tight ends.
Hunter Henry has played in every game since he’s been with the Patriots, making it the first time he’s been available to do so in his career. Henry didn't last an entire season during his first five seasons with the Chargers, getting hit with injury after injury.
Henry has played in 34 possible games, making 91 receptions for 1,112 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns with a 67.9 catch percentage. His passer rating is through the roof when he’s targeted, recording a 119.6 in 2021 and 100.2 in 2022.
In a down year, Henry hit the lowest marks since his rookie year. But it was more of a product of the dysfunctional offense that Bill Belichick allowed last year than Henry falling off completely, as the entire offense was affected by it last season.
In 2023, however, Henry will be utilized as a receiver, but he’ll likely be more of a typical blocking tight end this year with the addition of Gesicki. That said, we should fully expect to see O’Brien stretch the field with both Henry and Gesicki this season.
It’s fair to say New England will run a lot of 12 personnel to have both Henry and Gesicki on the field simultaneously, which further stretches the field and offense for the Patriots.
Mike Gesicki could be the most impactful offseason acquisition for the Patriots this season. He enters a tight end room that’s lacked production since 2018, and Gesicki could be the answer to that problem.
It’s worth mentioning that in 2014, Gesicki was recruited by Bill O’Brien to go to Penn State when he was still the coach. Although Gesicki committed to four years at Penn State, O’Brien wasn’t there for it, as he ended up becoming the head coach of the Houston Texans.
Last season was a down year for Gesicki as he saw a decrease in production across the board due to the emergence of Jaylen Waddle and Miami trading for Tyreek Hill. As a result, Gesicki finished the season under 700 yards for the first time in two years, with 362 receiving yards on 32 receptions in 2022.
Gesicki is arguably the best receiving tight end in the NFL, spending 60.3 percent of his career snaps lined up in the slot position. In 2021, Gesicki ran 75 percent of his routes from the slot and was on the line as a tight end for only 11 pass-blocking plays for the season, further proving his skills as a receiving threat.
Another fun fact about Gesicki and his connection to the Patriots in addition to being recruited by O’Brien at Penn State, Gesicki and Patriots quarterback Trace McSorley were teammates at Penn State.
Overall, the Patriots should see more production from their tight end position this year than they have in the last five.