Signed: Rob Gronkowski, D.J. Williams
Free Agents: Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan
Before shopping in free agency or focusing on draft-eligible collegians for a tight end, the New England Patriots should ask a player already on the roster one question:
Mark Harrison, can you block a linebacker?
Harrison isn’t your typical wide receiver because he’s 6’3” 230 pounds. He’s already a physical mismatch for cornerbacks, but at his size Harrison might have difficulty outquicking any defensive backs. Maybe he would have better success against linebackers.
Some early draft projections are predicting that New England will select Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro with their first-round pick. There’s no denying that the 6'5", 265-pound Amaro has talent, but if the Patriots wanted a Rob Gronkowski clone they could have signed a bigger tight end than D.J. Williams.
Williams is 6’2”, 245 pounds and is said to be athletic. Harrison averaged 16.5 yards per reception in four years at Rutgers to prove his athletic prowess. While Williams has experience on his side, he had as many receptions as Harrison did in 2013.
If the Patriots want to return to a two-tight end offensive attack they need the complementary target who has the versatility to line up anywhere on the field. Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan are great blockers but aren’t significant receiving threats.
There’s no telling if Harrison can make the switch to tight end, but it’s worth a shot because few linebackers can cover a receiver one-on-one. If the coaching staff wants a little more girth on Harrison, feed him Gronk Flakes for breakfast for a month so he can make weight.
Adding Harrison’s size to the receiving corps is intriguing, but New England needs more help at the tight end position. Maybe Harrison is better off staying at wideout, but there’s no harm in experimenting to find out if Harrison would have a better advantage at tight end.
Williams will have a chance to be that game-changer through minicamp and training camp. If he proves to be capable of the role then there’s no need for the mad-scientist approach to solving the tight end problem.
If the Patriots actually do want Gronkowski insurance, there’s a good crop of tight ends available early in the draft. Even though Gronkowski is expected to be fully recovered from ACL and MCL surgery in time for training camp, the injuries are piling up, and Gronkowski’s propensity for injuries is a concern.
New England will want to keep either Hoomanawanui or Mulligan. The Patriots won’t need two blocking tight ends after restocking the position.
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