The New England Patriots have essentially traded one tight end currently wearing orange—Aaron Hernandez—for one from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team known for wearing orange. The only orange that former Buccaneer Tim Wright is seeking now is the pylon that marks the end zone.
While Wright—received by the Patriots along with a fourth-round pick in exchange for Logan Mankins—might not have the extraordinary skill set possessed by Hernandez, he has enough versatility and athleticism to open up all sorts of possibilities for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
These possibilities aren't new. Multiple tight end sets—"12" personnel especially—have long been a part of the Patriots offense. However, injuries and unforeseen circumstances have curtailed their use.
Bill Belichick went back to the most familiar of wells—a Rutgers player—to help fill the void. Wright was thought of as a plodding 6'4", 220-pound receiver in college. Tampa Bay saw something different. They transformed him into a tight end—he saw time at the "Y" and "Move" positions—capable of creating mismatches with linebackers and safeties.
Fifty-four catches in his rookie season showed that the Buccaneers were on to something.
While Wright's physical attributes—4.65 speed and a 36" vertical leap in college—get him on the field, his mental acumen will help him thrive in New England.
Alen Dumonjic from TheScore.com highlighted a play showing Wright's subtle adjustments that make all the difference.
On a third-and-8 in a close game, the Bucs looked to their in-line “Y” tight end to move the chains. The defense knew it was coming and focused on eliminating Wright. They bracketed him underneath and above. The strong safety played outside and above, while the inside linebacker ran inside at Wright’s hip.
When Wright cut outside after a dozen-yard vertical stem, he ran away from the linebacker. He only had to deal with the safety, who was in position to make a big pass deflection before Wright made a subtle adjustment that some rookies forget to make.
He flattened out his route.
Wright ran parallel to the 25-yard line and effectively cut off the safety’s angle to his upfield hip. As the throw came in, Wright flattened the route more and came back to the ball, forcing the safety to play from behind and miss the pass altogether.
Wright's ability was on display against the Giants. Despite having been on the team for only a couple of days, he was able to log 43 snaps. He caught four balls for 43 yards on just five targets. Speaking with media after the final preseason game, per the Patriots' official website, Jimmy Garoppolo praised his smarts as well.
"Very intelligent player," he said. "He picks it up very quickly and he's pretty athletic, too. He had a heck of the game along with all the other tight ends and receivers and running backs. They all played well tonight. "
While earning praise from a rookie quarterback is one thing, Belichick dishing it out is quite a bit different: "I think we saw it as a coaching staff, [Wright] was able to absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time and then go out there and function in the game." Belichick went on to say while Wright must continue to improve, he's done a good job of learning "the formations and the routes and so forth."
Combine his physical capabilities with his ability to process information quickly—on the field and off—and you can see McDaniels and Belichick bringing back the "12" personnel that gave NFL defenses fits.
Rob Gronkowski is a nightmare matchup to begin with, but Wright compounds the problem. While he wasn't asked to block much in his debut, Wright has shown that he is a capable blocker—both in space and inline. Gronkowski is one of the best blockers at tight end in the league.
Defenses are going to have to decide whether they want to counter Gronkowski and Wright with a base defense to stop the run or if they switch to nickel to combat the pass. Either way the defense declares, Tom Brady will get his offense into the correct play.
No matter the color of the jersey his tight ends once wore, watch Tom Brady spin them into gold.