Rob Gronkowski won’t be walking through that door this season due to his somewhat surprising announcement he would retire, effective immediately. With no legitimate backup waiting in the wings, the conventional wisdom had the Patriots moving up from their No. 32 overall pick to jockey into a slot that would allow them to snatch Iowa’s talented tight end T.J. Hockenson. However, with the eighth overall pick, the Detroit Lions selected Hockenson in what many draft pundits considered a bit of a reach – just a bit.
Most of the mock drafts and some of the best online betting sites found over at Sportsbook Review, had the 6’5” John Mackey Award winner landing somewhere between the mid-teens and early 20’s, a spot where Bill Belichick could reasonably swap first-round picks plus a bit more without too much collateral damage to the many picks he had acquired in preparation of the 2019 draft. Besides, there was always Hockenson’s teammate, Noah Fant, the Robin to his Batman in the Hawkeyes’ battery of twin tight end terrors. But Belichick likes a tight end who can block and catch, however, Fant was more adept at the latter rather than the former, and that limitation wouldn’t warrant Belichick trading up to nab Gronkowski’s heir apparent.
Fant would vanish from the draft board at No. 20 when Denver decided to make him a Bronco but there was still one more tight end to be had, Irv Smith Jr., formerly of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Many believed Belichick had once again masterminded his way into a top tier tight end without moving an inch. After all, Smith had NFL pedigree with his father Irv Smith Sr. having toiled in the professional ranks during the ’90s and was also mentored under the legendary Nick Saban, with whom Belichick shares a deep friendship and has profound respect.
The pieces had all fallen into place but whatever you think Belichick will do, you can be sure he won’t. Yet again, Belichick flipped the script and added a player the same height as Smith Jr. (6’2”) but with more speed and a greater vertical downfield threat when he selected N’Keal Harry as the newest weapon in his offensive arsenal. Think of it this way, when you’ve been tooling around in a Lamborghini for so long, it’s tough to trade it in for a Ford F-150. Sure, a pickup is durable, practical, and will get you from point A to point B but when you already have a few in your garage, it doesn’t make sense to go out and buy a newer model just hoping the engine has a little more giddy-up.
Instead, Belichick took a hard look at his receiving corps and realized that this was the area of greatest concern. With all due respect to Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and the rest of the 2018 New England Patriots’ wideouts, that crew was simply not going to cut it in light of an aging Edelman with plenty of wear on his treads, and a wildcard in Josh Gordon whose status is perpetually uncertain. The coup de grace is that Belichick not only passed on a tight end in the first round but didn’t even have to trade up to land Smith in the second, as he was still sitting there when the Patriots selected Vanderbilt’s rangy cornerback Joejuan Williams at No. 45. Irv Smith Jr. would be taken a few minutes later at No. 50 by the Minnesota Vikings so that ship had sailed. However, there was still some decent tight end talent to be had as Drew Sample of Washington went to the Bengals in the second round shortly after Smith. Four tight ends were taken in the third round and a grand total of 16 overall were plucked from the 2019 draft, but not one was selected by New England.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins will headline the tight end stable this season, but the former second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Bucs has never lasted a full season without injury. Maybe Belichick overplayed his hand this time and Tom Terrific will have one less pass-catching outlet this season. However, if you’ve been watching Bill Belichick long enough, chances are things will work out just fine.