With the 2018 NFL draft on tap this week, PFW will offer a capsule look at each position in the coming days. Today we look at tight ends.
Position: Tight end
Patriots need: This might be one of the most polarizing positions in terms of draft needs on the Patriots roster. On one hand there's Rob Gronkowski and his All-World talents coming off another monster year that saw him lead the team with 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. On the other is a seemingly endless pool of speculation surrounding the tight end that has led many – perhaps the Patriots themselves – questioning his commitment level. Gronk could ultimately return in 2018 and remain as productive as ever, and he also could be traded or suffer through another injury-riddled season as he did in 2016. That leaves some uncertainty around the draft and Bill Belichick will need to figure out how urgent finding a potential replacement will be. Free agent Troy Niklas joins Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister on the depth chart, but Allen might need to take a pay cut from his $5 million salary in order to stay. It would seem New England could use a young draft pick to throw into the mix regardless.
High-end options: The problem with that mindset is there is a limited amount of talent to choose from at the position. Oklahoma's Mark Andrews and Penn State's Mike Gesicki sit atop most of the experts' list at tight end, and neither seems to possess the elite qualities of a first-round pick. Gesicki enjoyed a strong Combine but didn't always play to the level that he tested in Indy, leaving some to wonder exactly what his ceiling might be. Andrews can catch the ball and had 22 career touchdowns for the Sooners. South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert is probably the most gifted receiver of the bunch with the ability to make some highlight-reel grabs but playing at the FCS left allowed him to dominate against overmatched competition. Indiana's Ian Thomas is an outstanding athlete, as is South Carolina's Hayden Hurst, who spent some time playing professional baseball before beginning his football career for the Gamecocks. Both could be options late in Day 3 and showed the ability to move in space but not much as blockers.
Mid-round value: Moving a bit lower down the board sit Stanford's Dalton Schultz and Wisconsin's Troy Fumagalli. Both have a lot of experience and have the ability to perform as in-line blockers. Both also come from run-oriented systems that should allow for easier transitions to NFL-style offenses as opposed to spreads that don't always feature traditional tight ends. Neither is a big-play receiver but both displayed the hands to be sure-handed adequate receivers. Notre Dame's Durham Smythe and Miami's Christopher Herndon also fall into the Day 3-range. Smythe might be the best blocker of the group and was often used in pass protection. Herndon did his share of blocking and was a productive receiver (40 catches in 2017) for the Hurricanes.
Prediction: Not a lot of high-end talent to choose from but the Patriots aren't likely going to be looking for a tight end until the middle rounds. Hurst is intriguing with great hands and body control but is 25 after spending two years in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. He was the first sophomore captain in South Carolina history and could be a solid option in the third round. Fumagalli also has a lot of Patriots characteristics and would make some sense if the team chooses to wait a little longer to add some depth.