The New England Patriots need to address the tight end position in the draft. Bill Belichick has the opportunity to build a bruising, tough, old school team that can strike fear into their opponents.
For the good part of 20 years the Patriots have been better known as a fast, pass happy team. Minus a couple of seasons with Corey Dillon and Sony Michel pounding the football, the Patriots are better known for Tom Brady throwing the ball to fast receivers.
The consensus across Pats Nation is that the Patriots priority this season is getting Tom Brady another wide receiver. The upcoming draft will be one of the deepest at the wide receiver position, and perhaps Belichick will be able to find some good options. But, I've maintained that as great as a wide receiver would be, the only way the Patriots really get their offense going is to focus on the tight end position.
Ideally the Patriots would make some sort of splash in free agency and sign either Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry, or Tyler Eifert. If Belichick could secure one of those guys, then he could take a tight end in the draft and keep Ryan Izzo as the Patriots third tight end.
Unfortunately the Patriots don't have a whole lot of cap room. They only have about $30 Million left and they may be priced out of the tight end market, especially if they re-sign Tom Brady.
One option Belichick has, is to mimick the 2010 draft when he selected Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and he can recreate the two headed monster. But, I would like to see Belichick to take a different approach to this. With Tom Brady starting to age and the short and long term future of the Patriots in question, Belichick can transform the Patriots into a rough and tough old school team. General Managers around the NFL will be building their teams to stop Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, Belichick can go against the grain and just beat up on defenses.
If that was the route he decided to to take I have the two perfect prospects that the Patriots should really consider drafting.
Thaddeus Moss / LSU / 6'3 / 225 LBS
I want to start this off by saying I was not on the Thad Moss bandwagon until I started doing my research for this piece. But, after watching his film, and reading the draft reviews, I am firmly on the Moss bandwagon, but probably for a very different reason than a lot of Patriots fans.
When it comes to on field performance I don't care who his dad is and what he did with Tom Brady in 2007. They don't play the same position, they're two different players, and nostalgia has nothing to do with the 2020 Patriots and beyond. Thad Moss earned his way onto this list, and his specific skill set is why I want him on the Patriots.
When Rob Gronkowski retired, the Patriots didn't just lose a target for Tom Brady, it also significantly hurt their run game. A lot of the top tight ends in this year's draft are dynamic route runners with a ton of speed, but I'm focused on Moss because of his what he can bring to not only the passing game, but how he'll boost the Patriots run game.
Let's start with the air game. Moss has great hands. He could possibly have the best hands amongst all the tight ends in the draft. He could also be a top three receiver in the draft when going up to catch a contested ball. Moss does a fantastic job boxing out his defender and getting leverage in the air to make a clean catch. The combination of Moss and N'Keal Harry could see the Patriots Redzone offense significantly improve in 2020. Having two guys who can get up and make those kind of catches is a nightmare for defenders to try and defend.
The downside to Moss's game is that he's not very fast, and at this point in his career he has a very limited route tree. He's also not a run after the catch threat, and he would need to add some moves to his arsenal to be a successful receiver in the NFL. With the right coaching and hard work on Moss's part he has the potential to be the most versatile tight end coming out of the draft. His receiving game needs work, but his blocking is already at an NFL level.
Moss is a very physical player who is aggressive at the point of attack. His work rate and intensity is very high and he has no issues beating up on defensive fronts. Moss has shown to have great blocking techniques with heavy hands, long arms, and he uses his strength and technique to get up into the second level of his blocks. These were traits the Patriots were desperately missing this season out of their tight ends. Moss can bring back some dynamic run blocking and open things up for Sony Michel and Damien Harris.
"Super polished as a blocker, which will lend itself well to getting early snaps in the pros. He's not overly refined with creating space via either hard breaks, crisp footwork or physicality as a route runner and his productivity may be dependent on check downs early on at the pro level." - The Draft Network
As mentioned the Patriots have an opportunity to draft a couple of tight ends and create a two headed monster of sorts. A lot of Patriots fans may be expecting me to choose a finesse tight end to compliment Moss, but I would rather see the Patriots draft another hard nosed tight end who can play tough at the line and go out and make catches in tough areas. The Patriots can use speedier receivers like Julian Edelman to stretch the field while the tight ends clog the middle. The opportunities and play calling would be limitless, and defenses would not be built to stop this kind of offensive attack. So, who would be the perfect complimentary piece to Thad Moss?
Jared Pinkney / Vanderbilt / 6'4 / 254 LBS
Pinkney is a little bit more of a project than Moss, but he's another big strong body that has the ability to abuse linebackers and safeties with his brute strength.
Pinkney plays his best football in the middle of the field, and because he played most of his college career with his fingers in the dirt, it should make his transition into the NFL a lot easier.
Like Moss, Pinkney works really well in congested areas and does a really good job boxingout defenders and he can get up use his body to make clean catches. The combination of Pinkney and Moss would force defenses to use safeties in coverage because both of their abilities to use their strength and athleticism to win congested catches would be too much for linebackers to handle. That will leave Patriots receivers in very favorable man to man match you with safety help on top. If a defensive coordinator decided to match either Pinkney or Moss against a linebacker that's when the Patriots just have to feed them.
Pinkney is still working on his blocking game, but he shows that he has the ability for his line game to develop nicely over time. Pinkney's size, frame, and strength will help him with his progression in the NFL.
Like Moss, Pinkney needs to polish up his receiving game, and become a little more creative after the catch and use his strength to his advantage when he's running with the ball. Right now he's not very elusive.
Pinkney is not overly quick, and he needs to improve his initial burst off the line. Because he's a little slower off his release defenders can trap him and stay with him because of his lack of moves right now. This is something that can be taught, and the Patriots are an organization known for teaching fundamentals.
"He has good overall athleticism for the position. He also shows the footballs IQ to align in multiple places over the course of a game. In the run game, he is a willing blacker and shows instances of being a finisher. He does a good job of holding the point of attack as a blocker in the run game. He also shows the ability to run after the catch. He shows good release off the line of scrimmage when aligned inline. He also shows sufficient hands in the passing game. He shows good toughness to catch a seam over the middle when contact is imminent. He also projects as a 4 phase special teamer." - The Draft Network
The Patriots have a really solid backfield with Michel, Harris, and James White. They also have two very solid fullbacks in Jakob Johnson and James Develin. If you add the toughness and grit that N'Keal Harry brings as a receiver drafting Moss and Pinkney would transform the Patriots into a very tough team to beat.
I can envision the Patriots looking a little sluggish in September and October, but as we move into the colder months of November, December, and January while teams are beat up and players are playing with injuries, the Patriots can become this relentless team that beats up on defenses and breaks their will very early into games.
Bill Belichick has an opportunity to really take the Patriots in a different direction and bring back some real old school football, and I'm probably getting to excited about my own idea, because there has been no indication that this is the direction the Patriots are going. But, I would feel really good if Belichick decided to put an emphasis on toughness over skill.