The Patriots new-look offense under offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien will likely feature a heavy dosage of two-tight end sets that will resemble what we saw in O'Brien's first stint with the team.
Although injuries throughout the spring limited the availability of New England's more experienced wide receivers, the Pats were already preparing the offense to lean on tight end duo Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. Despite having Henry and former teammate Jonnu Smith over the last two seasons, the Pats surprisingly ranked 25th in 12-personnel usage in that span, and early indications are that will change this season.
During the spring, Gesicki's natural pass-catching skills and alignment flexibility gave the Pats offense a clearer path to featuring both tight ends on the field together. Gesicki, an inside receiver who plays detached from the formation, was impactful in OTAs and minicamp sessions running the seam, stretching the field horizontally, and showing decent separation quickness.
Gesicki's overall smoothness in the passing game made for a better pairing than Smith's untraditional skillset with Henry, offering two big-bodied targets between the numbers. Things could skew back to more three-receiver packages once the Patriots are fully healthy at wide receiver. Still, the expectation is the Patriots two-tight end usage will increase significantly.
Along with the potential upside of having two productive pass-catchers between the numbers, there are also formational benefits from operating their base offense out of 12-personnel. The Pats can run or pass out of this grouping based on the defense's personnel. If defenses match them with five defensive backs (nickel), one of those inside receivers shown above is getting a linebacker in coverage. Suppose opposing defenses match them in dime, now the Pats can get into a run formation and run Stevenson down a lighter defense's throat.
The Patriots new tight end duo is one of the team's biggest 'X' factors that could increase the offense's ceiling for the 2023 season.
Behind Gesicki and Henry, the Patriots have decisions to make on carrying a third tight end on the initial 53-man roster and the stylistic direction they'd like to take with the TE3 spot.
Over the last two seasons with Henry and Smith, the Patriots have mostly carried only two tight ends on the active roster, opting to stash depth options on the practice squad. That trend could continue as Gesicki and Henry are a highly-paid duo that will dominate the playing time.
However, the Patriots must also consider that their reworked duo at the position features two tight ends that lean more toward receiving threats than pure in-line run blockers. Plus, Gesicki will likely log most of his snaps in the slot or out wide rather than as a hand-in-the-dirt tight end.
The Pats signed undrafted rookie free agent Johnny Lumpkin as a potential blocking specialist. Lumpkin stands at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, and filled out his practice jersey like a slimmed-down offensive tackle. We'll wait to evaluate Lumpkin as a blocker until padded practices begin this summer, but the rookie could push for a roster spot as a traditional blocking tight end.
New England also signed free-agent Anthony Firkser during the offseason program if they want to lean into a flex tight end room. Firkser has the body type and experience to play as a more versatile blocker in an H-Back mold or possibly expand his role to fullback snaps.
Lastly, the other roster hopeful from this perspective is athletic pass-catching tight end Scotty Washington. Washington is similar to Gesicki in that he plays detached from the formation and has a huge catch radius. Washington makes occasional highlight-reel grabs by leaping above defenders to make contested catches down the field. According to teammates, Washington routinely made similar plays on the scout team last season.
The Patriots are pivoting to a different tight-end duo, with the early returns suggesting that Gesicki and Henry will fit together. Now, decisions loom on how they'll fit out the active roster at the position behind their new pairing.