Patriots

Analysis: With Gronk gone and Watson facing ban, Matt LaCosse suddenly in spotlight

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(Adam Richins/Boston Sports Journal)

In three months, Matt LaCosse has gone from being an under-the-radar free-agent pickup to one of the most compelling guys on the Patriots’ roster.

When the 26-year-old LaCosse signed a two-year deal with New England on March 14, the Patriots still had Rob Gronkowski on the team and Ben Watson was settling into the early stages of retirement after leaving the Saints. Now, Gronkowski is gone and Watson will be on the shelf for the first four games of the 2019 season. And after seeing how the reps broke down at the recently concluded minicamp, LaCosse appears well-positioned to be the No. 1 tight end on the roster to start the 2019 season, just ahead of the likes of Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, and Andrew Beck.

So what sort of player is LaCosse? After watching him over the course of three minicamp practices, we went back and reviewed every snap of his from the 2018 season. The verdict? He’s a classic buy-low pickup who is dependable in the passing game, but has some issues when it comes to blocking. More than anything, though, he certainly has a knack for timing — his most productive football came over the final month of last season with the Broncos as he was poised to hit free agency. How will all that play out this year in New England? Let’s take a look.

THE SKINNY

An undrafted free agent out of Illinois, the 6-foot-6, 255-pounder (who shares similar frame and playing style with ex-Patriots tight end Jacob Hollister, who stands 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds) has played in 22 NFL games with six starts and has 27 receptions for 272 yards and one touchdown. Last season with Denver, he played in 15 games with five starts and finished with 24 catches for 250 yards and one touchdown. It was easily the best year of his career, but things didn’t really click for him until the last month of the 2018 season, when he played 80 percent or more of the snaps down the stretch for the Broncos. (Part of that was because the Denver offense underwent some serious changes down the stretch, as the Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders went down with a season-ending injury.)

[caption id="attachment_512626" align="alignnone" width="1600"] LaCosse is going into his first year with the Patriots. (Adam Richins/BSJ Photo)[/caption]

Here’s a scouting report from Cecil Lammey, who covers the Broncos for 104.3 The Fan in Denver: “I always thought there was more there with LaCosse than the Broncos let him show. LaCosse was a standout player in practice as a receiver, but he never