Previous draft pick breakdowns:
Bedard’s Breakdown: What Kyle Dugger’s Senior Bowl film tells us about his Patriots future
Bedard’s Breakdown: Putting Josh Uche’s impressive Senior Bowl in proper and needed context
Bedard’s Breakdown: Coaches will need to find right front seven fit for experienced Anfernee Jennings
Bedard’s Breakdown: 9 plays show why TE Devin Asiasi could be Patriots’ most impactful draft pick
It would be easy, as most have, to pencil in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene as the Patriots' next double tight-end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Same draft class. Two different types of tight ends. 2010 ... welcome to 2020.
And, perhaps, it may indeed end up that way. Certainly, incumbents Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo don't appear to have bright, long-term futures in New England. Wouldn't take much to displace them. Quickly moving into a new era of tight ends for the Patriots makes a lot of sense.
But that would depend on the Patriots offense, directed by Josh McDaniels, to carry over the same blueprint and approach as the past decade. That could happen, sure. But the Patriots are anything but static. Just look at how the defense has morphed from a base 3-4 and zone coverage, to 4-3 scheme with man coverage, to the past two years where they were a hybrid with man coverage.
Almost all of the alterations they've made to the team over the years are dictated by the personnel. What can these guys do well, and how does that best fit to beat the next team on Sunday?
In that vein, I wouldn't count on the Patriots dusting off their Gronkowski and Hernandez gameplans for next season. Keene doesn't fit in a box ... he could create a new one and help take the Patriots offense in a different direction.
What does Keene bring to the table and why might that cause the Patriots to debut a new part of their offense this fall?
Well, for starters, he can play just about every skill position besides quarterback and deep-threat wide receiver, and he did at Virginia Tech. In one game, you could see Keene line up at tight end, h-back, fullback, tailback (with a carry) and slot receiver. And that offense isn't all that creative, or good.
He's a bit like Hernandez in that regard, except he trended more toward the receiver side of things (even though he did play running back in a Patriots game) — a position he lobbied to move to before the end of his NFL career.
Keene is versatile but trends to the running back/fullback side of things (he was a running back in high school).
How could that be valuable to the Patriots?
Everything with offense is dictated by personnel matchups. With Hernandez the debate for defensive coordinators was how do you defend him? Do you put another linebacker on the field? He's too fast for them. What about a cornerback? He's bigger and stronger.
But in the past decade, NFL defenses have trended smaller and have the types of players to defend players like Hernandez. Doesn't mean they can't be successful, just that defenses have up their odds.
But if you have a player like Keene, who can morph from a fullback to a tight end in the blink of an eye, how will defensive coordinators defend that? Likely they will match up with a linebacker — at a time when there are fewer traditional linebackers on a roster (the Patriots had two before the draft) which means a base defense. Keene should be faster than a linebacker if he goes out for a pass. If they match with a safety then ... boom, Keene should be able to block them and the power running game has a mismatch against an undersized defense.
This is not an original thought, but the rest has been slow adopting. Kyle Shanahan has made Kyle Juszczyk a matchup player in his offense.
“I feel like I’m just one of Kyle’s chess pieces that he gets to move around and dictate how the defense lines up,” said Juszczyk, a four-time Pro Bowl selection. “We don’t just move around and do all those motions before the snap just because it looks good. There’s always a reason behind it. We’re always trying to get the defense set on a certain position so that we feel like we can take advantage.”
“We were pumped to get Juice when we got him,” Shanahan said. “Personally, I like having a fullback because I feel like that’s the only way you can dictate your terms. When you have a fullback in the game, if you really want to run the ball, you can run the ball regardless of what the defense is doing.”
I know what you're thinking: What's the big deal, the Patriots have always used a fullback ... duh, they had James Develin and signed Dan Vitale in the offseason.
Vitale and now Keene are complete departures from what the Patriots had in Develin. They are versatile athletes, not sledgehammers.
What's interesting is that the Packers took a similar player, Josiah Deguara, right before the Patriots traded a boatload to land Keene. Packers coach Matt LeFleur is a Shanahan disciple. Some NFL sources think the Patriots were actually targeting Deguara in that round but the Packers beat them to the punch. The Patriots paying a king's ransom for Keene sent the signal to other NFL executives that they missed on their guy and had to overpay to make sure they got the only other player who could do the FB/TE job.
"They are very similar players with their versatility," said one NFL exec. "Deguara is built lower to the ground (Deguara is 6-1, Keene 6-4 ... Juszczyk is 6-1 by the way) and would make more sense as a fullback. But Keene can do it. Watch, it will work out better for them with the taller guy."
One other aspect of this, related to Shanahan: He left out the biggest advantage of playing with a more athletic fullback — the passing game, especially for more inexperienced quarterbacks. For an offensive playcaller and a QB, base defenses are more predictable. And an athletic fullback presents a great mismatch in the passing game.
These are the 21 personnel — two running backs, one tight end, two receivers — success rates last season, dug out by our friend Aaron Schatz at FootballOutsiders.com. They show how teams are more successful throwing the ball out of 21 than out of 12 or 11 personnel:
[table id=438 /]
It's a mismatch game on offense. The Patriots appear to be looking to find a new way to do that, and Keene is the way for them to get there.
- Just an infectious football player through and through. There's nothing he won't do for his football team. Plays until after the whistle. Plays just about every position on offense and loves it.
- Good all-around, natural athlete. Has a little wiggle in his game through and he should get some more quickness and burst through an NFL strength and nutrition program. Don't think he's hit his ceiling yet.
- Animal in the blocking game: there isn't any assignment he won't hit head on and he can block in different ways and from different positions.
- Natural pass catcher with soft hands. Gets up the field quickly and can make players miss.
- Should contribute immensely on special teams as well.
- Comes from an average spread style offense so there will be an on-ramp to a pro style.
- Not a great athlete for the position, which likely led to his draft position, but a fairly good one for the position. He better get lined up on linebackers because he's not going to run away from many NFL safeties at this point.
- Blocking is inconsistent. Sometimes it's excellent, other times he whiffs and ends up on the group. Most of his struggles comes from when his pads get over his toes. Just needs to block flat-footed a bit more. Can easily be coached up.
- Is being good at everything but a master of none good enough in the NFL?
GAME FILM BREAKDOWNS
I think we covered most of this above ... expect the unexpected with this pick. I don't think Keene is going to be your traditional Patriots tight end — it would be a shame to limit his impact to just that.
In a sense, I could see Keene being the Patriots' version of Jim "Crash" Jensen from the Dolphins — right down to the mustache.
(turn the volume down)