Prototypical Patriots: Best tight end fits in 2022 NFL Draft class

Prototypical Patriots: Best tight end fits in 2022 NFL Draft class

If the Patriots are going to feature an offensive attack that utilizes multiple tight ends extensively, and if they can’t count on things suddenly clicking for Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, they could use more depth behind Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

This isn’t the strongest crop of draftable tight ends in recent memory, but there are a handful of fits.

What makes them fits? Well, the Patriots have drafted 14 tight ends under Bill Belichick. Trends have emerged. Size, obviously, is important. The “prototype” falls in the 6-foot-4 range and a shade over 250 pounds. Big hands (about 10 inches) are also preferred.

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Athleticism matters, too. Quick 40 times (4.7-second range) and three-cone drills (7.0-second range) could help a player find his way onto the Patriots roster, as will legitimate lower-body explosiveness (35-inch vertical or thereabouts).

Most importantly, they want hybrid players who can function as both receivers and blockers. Even if a draftee is not dominant in both categories, the Patriots like players with one definitive strength to be at least adequate in the other area.

Who checks most of those boxes? Let’s get to the list.

Jelani Woods, Virginia – 6-foot-7, 253 pounds

Woods has an argument as the best height-weight-speed athlete at tight end in the last two decades, if you look at his Relative Athletic Score from Kent Lee Platte. At 6-foot-7, 253 pounds, Woods ran a 4.61-second 40 time, recorded a 6.95-second three-cone drill, and posted whopping jumps of 37.5 inches in the vertical and 129 inches in the broad.


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Woods may be raw – he’s a converted high school quarterback, which gives him a background the Patriots have shown they appreciate – but he was a first-team All-ACC honoree with 44 catches for 598 yards and eight scores, and he had a strong week at the Shrine Bowl.

To provide some context on his movement skills, he’s taller and heavier than Falcons freak tight end Kyle Pitts (drafted fourth overall last year) and yet Woods had a better three-cone time, short shuttle, and he had a more explosive vertical.

Trey McBride, Colorado State – 6-foot-4, 246 pounds

While Woods may be the most impressive tight end this year from a physical standpoint, McBride may be the most accomplished. He was a unanimous All-American, he took home the John Mackey Award as the top tight end in the nation, and he was named the top tight end for the National team at the Senior Bowl.

Trey McBride

USA TODAY Sports

McBride caught 90 passes for 1,121 yards in 2021 en route to winning the John Mackey Award.

This two-time captain checks just about every box the Patriots are looking for from a physical standpoint, too. His 40 time was plenty quick (4.56 seconds at his pro day), and though his vertical was a little low (33 inches), he has enough athleticism to warrant a third-round pick if Bill Belichick is so inclined.

Greg Dulcich, UCLA – 6-foot-4, 243 pounds

Dulcich would be a bit of an outlier for the Patriots because of his weight. But he’s a dynamic athlete (4.69-second 40, 7.05-second three-cone), and he’ll come with a big-time recommendation from Belichick pal Chip Kelly.

“His work ethic is off the charts,” the UCLA head coach said, per the Los Angeles Times. “Anything we put on Greg’s plate, he eats up both literally and figuratively.”

Dulchich, a former walk-on, was an academic All-American, too. If he can add more muscle to his frame as a pro, he could end up the best tight end in this year’s class. Even if he ends up as more of a “big slot,” that could provide the Patriots a valuable insurance policy for Henry.

Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State – 6-foot-5, 252 pounds

A left foot injury prevented Ruckert from testing athletically during the pre-draft process. He was only able to participate through the first half of Senior Bowl week until the issue forced him off the field. But in terms of size? Ruckert is the rare player who looks the part, including having hands that measured over 10 inches prior to the combine.

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With an aggressive demeanor as a blocker, he could give the Patriots something they’re lacking at the position. But don’t discount his ability to function as a receiver. He saw just 39 targets last season in an offense that doesn’t look to its tight ends very often, but he showed real ball skills in posting 26 grabs for 309 yards and three scores.

Cade Otton, Washington – 6-foot-5, 247 pounds

Otton seems to be flying under the radar during the pre-draft process as he recovers from a season-ending ankle injury that forced him to miss two games. But he was a four-year starter for the Huskies, and a First-Team All-Pac 12 honoree in 2020 (18 catches, three touchdowns in a COVID-shortened season).

He looks like a true “Y” tight end at the next level who has shown off a willingness to do the dirty work in the running game while also having the ability to run refined routes to get himself open. If he ends up falling in the draft due to injury, the Patriots may want to pounce on him as a value play.

Charlie Kolar, Iowa State – 6-foot-6, 252 pounds

If the Patriots are looking to add some brain power on Day 3, they could do a lot worse than Kolar. He won this year’s Campbell Trophy – also known as the “academic Heisman” – and graduated with a 3.99 GPA with a degree in mechanical engineering.

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Kolar participated in this year’s Senior Bowl, and was a captain who was beloved by teammates as well as head coach Matt Campbell. He doesn’t exactly fit the mold as a “hybrid” since his blocking is a work in progress. But he finished last season with 62 catches for 756 yards and six scores, and he’s a very good athlete.

He clocked a 4.62-second 40 at his pro day to go along with a strong vertical (35.5 inches), broad (10-feet) and three-cone (7.00 seconds).

Daniel Bellinger – San Diego State, 6-foot-5, 253 pounds

Voted as the top tight end on the American team at this year’s Senior Bowl, Bellinger likely caught the attention of the Patriots with his performance in Mobile, Ala.

Daniel Bellinger

USA TODAY Sports

Bellinger was voted as the top tight end on the American team at this year’s Senior Bowl.

A team captain last year, he caught 31 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns, and his athleticism (4.63-second 40, 7.03-second three cone, 35-inch vertical) looks like it will certainly play at the next level. Plus, he’s a competitive blocker who’ll embrace that aspect of his job if he lands in Foxboro.

He has a significant injury history, but with good movement skills, capable hands and a welcome attitude in the running game, he could be an option for the Patriots on Day 3.

James Mitchell, Virginia Tech – 6-foot-4, 249 pounds

Mitchell is another prospect who will end up going later than he probably should because of injury. A torn ACL forced him to miss all but two games of the 2021 season, but he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and looked like a centerpiece of the Hokie offense after being named a captain prior to last season.

He’s a relentless blocker and he showed an ability to play both inline and in the slot as a collegian. Because he hasn’t tested, it’s hard to know how exactly stacks up physically, but he looks agile and coordinated on tape. Perhaps he can turn into what Virginia Tech teammate Dalton Keene has not since been drafted in the third round in 2020.

Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin – 6-foot-5, 250 pounds

What happened at Wisconsin’s pro day helped Ferguson end up here. He improved his vertical by three inches (34.5) compared to what he posted at the combine, and his 40 time improved by nearly a full tenth of a second. His three-cone time was already within range for what the Patriots typically draft (7.03 seconds).

Pair those numbers up with his size, his consistent collegiate receiving production (145 career catches, 13 career touchdowns) and his determination as a blocker in the running game? He belongs on this list.

John FitzPatrick, Georgia – 6-foot-7, 262 pounds

Surgery to repair stress fractures in both feet prevented FitzPatrick from doing athletic testing prior to the draft, but the fact that he played through those injuries during Georgia’s run to a national championship may actually help him in the eyes of evaluators.

He’s considered a grinder who has the size and power to move people in the running game. He has some receiving chops as well, but he may end up a blocking specialist at the next level.

Hailing from a program Belichick respects – and providing a skill set that may be lacking in the tight end room at the moment – FitzPatrick would be an intriguing late-round fit.

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