New England Patriots: Dalton Keene has eye-popping athleticism

With a void left after Gronkowski's retirement, the New England Patriots hope rookie Dalton Keene can bring some life back to the TE position.

Tight end was a known weak spot on the New England Patriots roster, and with some talent in the draft, there was a chance that Bill Belichick and company were going to take a prospect at some point. However, not many were expecting New England to double-dip and select two TEs back-to-back in the third round. With the 91st and 101st picks, the Patriots grabbed Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the 2020 Draft.

The last time New England selected two TEs in the same draft was in 2010 when the team drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Both tight ends earned high Relative Athletic Scores (RAS), 9.31, and 8.34, respectively. RAS is a composite metric based on averages from the drills players participate in at the combine on a scale of 1 to 10. Keene earned a RAS grade of 9.34, making him the highest-rated TE New England has drafted since selecting Gronkowski ten years ago.

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New England’s TE void

Gronkowski retired after the 2018 season and discussed the physical and emotional toll that football had put him through. Post-Gronkowski, the Patriots have struggled to identify a replacement for the lost offensive production. Gronkowski continuously posted high OSM scores week in and week out from 2016-2018. His 2017 season was dominant, and while not as impressive, he still left his mark on the offense in 2018.

Patriots TE Keene
Rob Gronkowski OSM Scores 2017-2018

As you can see in the graph above, not only was Gronkowski playing at a high level, he was doing so over the course of the entire season. His average OSM grade from 2016-2018 was 31.9 and as seen in the graph above, the low bounce rate of his performances means his OSM performance was reliable and a safe bet.

The only tight end to earn an OSM score for the Patriots in 2019 was Benjamin Watson, and he only qualified for a grade in two weeks, 7 and 9. In a system that has benefitted from production at the TE position for five-six years, this is not ideal. New England has also drafted three other tight ends between the Gronk/Hernandez and Asiasi/Keene pairings.

In 2011 they drafted Lee Smith from Marshall with the 159th pick in the fifth round who had a RAS grade 4.81. New England then drafted A.J. Derby out of Arkansas in 2015 with pick 202 in round six. He had the highest RAS of these three TEs at 5.97 and last saw action in 2018 with the Miami Dolphins. Finally, in 2018 they drafted Ryan Izzo from Florida State, he had the lowest RAS score at 4.49 and is currently still with the team. With two new TEs joining the group, it might be hard for him to stay afloat.

Keene’s athletic profile shows potential for New England

As stated earlier, Keene has the highest RAS grade of any tight end drafted since Gronkowski, and he brings an exciting game to the Patriots offense. However, a point must be made that while Keene’s agility and explosion scores are higher than Gronk’s, Gronkowski has a slight overall RAS edge at 9.45 as illustrated below.

Patriots TE Keene
Photo Credit: Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb)

Gronkowski has the edge on Keene when it comes to size and speed. Gronk has two inches on Keene heightwise as well as an inch on hand size. As noted, Keene does have the upper hand when it comes to explosion and agility, though. While each TE has his strengths, their overall measurements are comparable.

Keene’s time at Virginia Tech

Keene comes from an interesting system at Virginia Tech. Many of his touches were manufactured from screens or leaking across the field, but he is an athletic marvel. He has lined up all over the field, taking reps in line, H-back, fullback, and a few roles on special teams.  Keene has also made his fair share of big plays showing strong run after catch ability and fights through tackles to gain the extra yard.

He has a high competitive drive and goes full tilt on every play. His character was highly regarded during his time at Virginia Tech and became a fan favorite with his nickname “Rambo” from his early seasons with long hair. He also added above-average blocking skills and was the critical block springing rushers many times during his career with the Hokies. He has not had the most accurate of QBs with VT’s offense and was somewhat underutilized, but his hands and catch-radius have bailed out many inaccurate passes and saved games, such as this grab versus UVA in 2018.

While I am not saying Keene is the next Gronkowski in New England, there is some promise for him to make his mark in the Patriots’ system. His blocking skills are also a plus as he can help create more space for Sony Michel, James White, and the other backs on the Patriots’ roster. While the pick may have been a reach, the reach may have been necessary given what Keene can hopefully bring to the table for the Patriots.

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