Now that the 2014 NFL Draft is in the books there is a clearer picture of what the New England Patriots 2014 roster will look like heading into training camp this summer. Undrafted Free Agent signings are done and with just a few end-of-the-roster moves before training camp begins later this summer, for the most part the roster is in place. This continues a breakdown of how the Patriots roster shapes up as of today, and a few thoughts on where they stand and where they go from here.
Tight end – Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, D.J. Williams, Asa Watson, Justin Jones
The Patriots entered the 2013 season with huge questions at wide receiver and tight end. Just like last year the Patriots prepare to enter training camp with major question marks at both positions. In free agency and the draft the Patriots only re-signed slot receiver Julian Edelman and brought in former Carolina Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell while waiting until their last pick in the seventh round to draft a receiver.
At tight end the Patriots are again counting on Rob Gronkowski returning to health after he was slowed last season by recovery from back and forearm surgery; this offseason sees him rehabilitating from his season-ending knee injury. Behind him the Patriots had little depth with H-back Michael Hoomanawanui and the likely on-the-roster-bubble D.J. Williams.
If Gronkowski starts and stays healthy throughout 2014, the Patriots will be fine at tight end. If not, they will be forced to adjust the offense just like they did in 2013. In fact, the one constant in the Patriots playoffs the past three seasons has been the lack of a healthy Gronkowski. The only time the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs with a healthy Gronkowski was in his rookie season in the 2010 Divisional Playoff game versus the New York Jets.
Behind Gronkowski the Patriots have Hoomanawanui who is merely an adequate backup, and Williams. Williams played in just two games last season, and he didn’t catch a pass from quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots may not be done adding players at the tight end position as they have brought in veteran free-agent tight ends Dustin Keller, Ben Hartsock and Nate Byham to Gillette Stadium for tryouts in recent weeks.
New England was expected to make a splash at the position early in the NFL Draft. Instead, the Patriots passed on the position altogether.
After missing out on the top tight end prospect (Eric Ebron who was chosen with the tenth overall pick by the Detroit Lions) the rest of the tight end class was drafted much higher than their talent warranted. With a weak draft class at the position the Patriots chose wisely to pass on the position and focused instead on an intriguing pair of undrafted free agents in Asa Watson and Justin Jones.
Jones and Watson are both interesting players with a number of question marks. Jones is a massive target at six-foot-eight but sat out the 2013 season due to academic issues at East Carolina. Watson is former Patriots first-round draft pick Ben Watson’s younger brother, but he dealt with a heart issue in college. Watson sat out the 2011 season at North Carolina State.