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Jun 10, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85) participates in drills during OTAs at the New England Patriots practice complex. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots offense will almost certainly be improved in 2021 – but will it be particularly good? The answer hinges strongly on the tight end position.

In an unprecedented spending spree for Bill Belichick, the Patriots tacitly admitted the talent drain that had hampered the offense over the past three seasons. The issue was especially pronounced at tight end, where 2018 seventh-round pick Ryan Izzo became their first selection at the position since Lee Smith in 2011.

After Ben Watson retired and Matt LaCosse opted out, Izzo was thrust into the lead role at TE for the 2020 Patriots. He was never projected for such a role in the first place, and that reflected in his production. Izzo averaged just 1.1 catches and 16.6 yards in 2020, despite getting about 52 offensive snaps per game. He showed incremental improvement as a blocker, but wasn’t close to a difference-maker in that area, either.

Fast-forward to 2021, though, and the outlook at tight end isn’t so bleak. That’s for both the present and the future. The Patriots invested two third-round draft picks and two top-of-the-market free-agent contracts at tight end within less than a calendar year, a total overhaul after years of erosion. So, with a very different training camp approaching for this position group, let’s take stock.

If Smith and Henry both stay on the field and gel, then the expectation should be an efficient, productive two-tight end attack in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field. And even if they don’t fully live up to the contracts, they will most certainly be a massive upgrade over Izzo and the depth charts of the previous two years.

The quarterback is ultimately who will determine how improved the Patriots’ revamped offense really is. But after two years of virtually no meaningful tight end production, the Patriots look poised to utilize the position at a high level.


Patriots 2021 Positional Previews: Quarterback | Tight End


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Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.