When the Patriots drafted University of Georgia tight end Ben Watson in 2004, many weren't surprised. New England was lacking sufficient production from recent tight ends since the release of Ben Coates in 1999. Coates has since been inducted at The Hall at Patriot Place and is regarded to be the best tight end to ever play in New England.
Benjamin Watson is no Ben Coates.
In fact, not many other tight ends that have played for the Patriots, or in the NFL for that matter, have been able to come close to the numbers of Coates. With 490 catches for 5,471 yards and 50 total touchdowns, Coates raised the level for all tight ends in the league.
Benjamin Watson did however contribute adequately in his six years with the New England Patriots. One of his more memorable plays included a long dash to the one yard line to prevent a Champ Bailey touchdown during the 2005 AFC Divisional Championship game, in which the Patriots eventually lost against the Denver Broncos.
|Watson caught 29 passes for 404 yards and 5 TDs in 2010. |
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
With a lack of production, several dropped crucial catches and decreasing use of the tight ends, Benjamin Watson opted out of New England and signed with the Cleveland Browns for a three-year contract worth $12 million.
With two tight ends left on the Patriot's roster, neither of which have ever played an actual game in the NFL, the Patriots were pressured to make a move.
This is where veteran tight end Alge Crumpler was given a chance to make a difference.
Alge Crumpler, the former Atlanta Falcon and Tennessee Titan is reported to have agreed to terms with New England. His signing would fill a massive void in the vanishing tight end position for the Patriots.
Unfortunately, Crumpler's ability to stay relevant is already in question. At 6'2 and 262 lbs, the North Carolina alum only managed 27 catches for 222 yards and one touchdown last season for the Titans. It was Crumpler's strong blocking contribution for standout running back Chris Johnson that helped in obtaining his first 2,000+ rushing yard season. Crumpler's lack of statistics for the last two seasons were easily overlooked.
Crumpler's experience in the league will be valuable when instilling the veteran leadership that Patriots' coach Bill Belichick values so much for every position.
Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher saw the importance of Crumpler on and off the field.
Fisher explained to the Boston Globe, "He's got a lot left...He's a terrific person, a great team guy and he's got a lot of plays left."
It's fair to say that Alge Crumpler is past his prime and this has many questioning what New England will do once April comes around for the 2010 Draft. New England has the 22nd overall pick and speculation has ranged from the need to improve a deflating defense and adding more to the linebackers.
Even with Crumpler, obtaining an explosive tight end with agility, stronger blocking capabilities and secure hands should be something that the Patriots place a higher priority on as well.
In the league today, tight ends are quickly evolving into the H-back. This hybrid player, also referred to as a power back, is required to provide blocks like a lineman but also run routes and catch short yardage passes like a slot receiver. The 2010 Draft has several prospects that would be capable of adding versatility to the New England offense.
Top ranked tight end Jermaine Gresham from Oklahoma is towering at 6'6 and 258 lbs. With exceptional catching ability and comfort in the redzone, Gresham could be a prime target for Tom Brady in times when more options are required in the endzone. Gresham completed his season at Oklahoma with 111 receptions for 1,629 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Gresham's senior year was hindered by cartilage damage in his right knee. The injury may drop the former Sooner to the middle of the first round, which would place him in acquisition range for New England.
Garrett Graham from Wisconsin had a productive workout at the Combine and solidified that performance during the University of Wisconsin Pro Day. Graham completed his career at UW with 121catches for 1,492 yards and 16 touchdowns. The slightly smaller tight end draws comparisons to former University of Texas Longhorn David Thomas with his 6'4 and 248 lbs build.
Graham lacks the explosive speed of a Vernon Davis or Greg Olsen, but makes up for it in his strength of route execution. Graham has experience in playing the H-back position well and would be a benefit for New England. His weight is an issue since bigger and stronger NFL defensive ends would be more difficult to cover and block. Expected to go in the late third and fourth rounds, Graham would be a smart option for the Patriots.
The New England Patriots have always been known for creating a cloud of mystery with their draft picks. With the loss of Benjamin Watson to Cleveland and the reported acquisition of Alge Crumpler from the Titans, it's no mystery that they are putting some emphasis in the tight end position. The Patriots desperately need to add variety to the offense and drafting a solid tight end who can also be utilized as an efficacious H-back could be the solution.
Kisha Tapangan covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for PatriotsInsider.com. To read more of her material, visit her blog at www.nrwithkisha.com . Follow Kisha on Twitter: @KishaT
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