For the New England Patriots, their tight end situation as it is currently constituted has two definite starters with All-Pro Rob Gronkowski and newly acquired Scott Chandler, along with multiple players fighting for the third spot.
Jake Bequette is trying to make the transition from defensive end to tight end to help salvage his career. It is hard to believe that he will be anything more than a fourth string tight end if he makes the roster. The real competition for the third tight end spot will come between veteran Michael Hoomanawanui and rookie sixth round pick AJ Derby.
Michael Hoomanwanaui has been a very accountable player since he joined the Patriots in 2012. He is one of the best examples of a Patriot that follows the model, “Do Your Job.” When asked to be a fill-in fullback he can do that, also he can be a serviceable blocking tight end.
However, “Hoo-Man” has for the most part been irrelevant in the passing game during his tenure with the Patriots. He has good hands but is very slow and runs stiff routes.
His inability to be open for Tom Brady has been the reason for his lack of targets. In addition, Hoomanwanui has a 1.5 million-dollar cap hit for 2015. That number is high for a blocking tight end. The Patriots can fill his role with James Develin at a cheaper price.
AJ Derby will be one of the more intriguing players this summer. Drafted 202nd overall out of Arkansas by the Patriots in this past draft, Derby looks to have the athletic ability to play tight end, but his skills are still raw due to his lack of experience at the position.
Derby was a middle linebacker turned quarterback for most of his time in Fayetteville, only to switch to tight end in his final season. In the Patriots system, I can picture Derby playing in a, “move tight end” role given his 6-4, 255 pound frame.
He doesn’t have the size or strength to be an in-line blocking tight end, although he has the hands and speed to catch the ball all over the field. Josh McDaniels will give Derby his chances during training camp, he may just be a work in-progress because of how little he has played at tight end.
In the end, AJ Derby will end up winning this battle because Michael Hoomanwanui’s price tag is too high. Hoo-Man is a replaceable player, and Derby could be a late-round gem. Stay tuned for more training camp battles as we get closer to July 30th.
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