And in this episode, we turn to Bucky Brooks, one of NFL.com’s leading voices and, in my opinion, one of the best analysts in the business. This week, his list ranks “The best duos in 11 key position groups.” So, for example, Buffalo quarterbacks Josh Allen and Case Keenum, Chargers wide Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, etc. And I’m here to discuss his pick for the best tight ends tandem in the league. Putting the Ravens’ Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle second and Browns David Njoku and Harrison Bryant third, Brooks has the Patriots with the best tight end room in the league:
1. Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
Don’t let the modest numbers of this veteran tandem in their first season together in New England (50 catches, 603 yards, nine touchdowns for Henry; 28 catches, 294 yards, a touchdown for Smith) overshadow their immense talent and potential. . Henry, 27, and Smith, 26, are exceptional pass catchers with running acumen and an instinct to find gaps in coverage. Plus, they’re interchangeable seam runners with the speed and quickness to run hashes on a variety of play passes that draw linebackers and safeties to the line of scrimmage. With quarterback Mac Jones expected to step up a notch after playing at Pro Bowl level as a rookie, the Patriots’ dynamic duo could create plenty of headaches for opponents ill-equipped to deal with a set versatile of “12”.
While I’m slightly correcting Brooks by reminding him that Henry was by far Mac Jones’ favorite red zone target and was at the commercial end of 26% of his touchdown passes, I’m not going to reinforce his overall grip figures from last year. as both of these were sub-optimal, to put it mildly. Smith was, in fact, the biggest disappointment on the roster. In his final two seasons at Tennessee – in a clearly running-focused offense, he had over 80 receptions for nearly 1,000 yards, 12 touchdowns and Pro Football Focus received ratings over 77.0. But in his freshman year at Foxboro, he missed the OTAs and never really recovered. He dropped an assist in his second game and two more in a bad loss to New Orleans. Then started seeing the ball less, aside from a series of gimmicky plays where he got the ball in the backfield in a kind of Cordarelle Patterson role. But even his fast numbers didn’t blow anyone’s kilt, averaging 4.4 YPA, his longest being a nine-yard reach.
But – and sit down before you read any further as this will get your brain pumping – I also share Bucky Brooks’ optimism. Henry and Smith were the top two free agents in their positions in 2021 for a reason. Because they have been productive for several years and are entering their prime. The two joined an attack that relies heavily on two tight sets. A system that has traditionally taken a year or more to master for beginners and veterans alike. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that 2010 Rob Gronkowski was all the superhuman physical specimen that he later was. But in his freshman year in New England, he produced nearly identical numbers to Henry’s (42 receptions, 546 yards, 13.0 ypc, 10 touchdowns in 16 games). Gronk needed a year to fully acclimatize to a complex scheme that demands a lot from his little bits. The hope of all Pats fans is that the same goes for Henry and Smith. And here is one of the best in his field agree with us.
Moreover, it is worth mentioning how catastrophic this situation was a year and a half ago. After Gronk “retired” in 2019 – long after the draft, although I’m not bitter – the last two years have been Ben Coates in 2019, with 17 catches for 173 yards, and Ryan Izzo in 2020, with 13 for 199. And in those two seasons, the position produced two surprisingly low touchdowns. Over 32 matches.
Now, in no way, shape or form, am I just comparing the 2022 TE room to 2019-20, just to feel good about things. According to this standard, you can randomly select two lucky ticket holders every week, match them and get more production. I prefer the bar set slightly higher. Like comparing him to the other 31 tight tandems in the league. And by that measure, I agree that the Pats have the best in the business. And for sure, they will be better than last year. And that’s all that really matters.