The New England Patriots made a minor splash on Thursday, sending over a conditional seventh-round pick to the Detroit Lions for tight end Michael Roberts. New England is obviously in the market for a tight end with Rob Gronkowski retired and Ben Watson suspended to start the season. The Patriots reportedly showed interest in Roberts prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, but what does the former fourth-round pick bring to New England?
Breaking Down Michael Roberts Fit in New England Patriots Offense
New England needs a blocking tight end more than they need a receiving tight end. In addition to losing Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots also lost an elite blocker in Dwayne Allen. With unknown commodities in Andrew Beck and Ryan Izzo occupying the top blocking positions, New England needed to find a more experienced blocker.
This is where Roberts comes in. Roberts spent the majority of his time in Detroit as a run blocker, and the Toledo product excelled in the role. According to Pro Football Focus, Roberts finished 2018 with a 73.2 grade as a run blocker, well above the league average. Roberts has what it takes to line up in the trenches and push around defensive ends and linebackers alike. New England ran the ball on just over 45% of their offensive snaps, so New England has need for a man of Roberts’ talents.
While he only has 13 receptions to his name, Roberts has been surprisingly effective when given chances in the passing game. According to Pro Football Focus, Roberts finished the season with a 77.2 receiving grade. Even though he only caught nine passes, he managed to turn three of those receptions into touchdowns. In small doses, Roberts has demonstrated the ability to haul in tough catches and win as a route runner.
Touchdown 1: Roberts finds the hole in the defense and holds on despite taking a hit from the safety pic.twitter.com/ZWn0JMb6Oh
— Dave Latham (@DLPatsThoughts) June 14, 2019
Perhaps what’s most encouraging about Roberts’ pass-catching prowess is that all three of his touchdowns came on red zone targets. With Gronkowski out of the picture, somebody will have to step up in the red zone. Roberts isn’t capable of filling Gronkowski’s spot in the offense, but he can fill in as a third or fourth option in the red zone.
Michael Roberts on the Depth Chart
As things currently stand, Matt LaCosse is still the heavy favorite to enter the season as the starting tight end. While he isn’t an elite blocker by any means, he easily offers the most upside as a pass catcher. This leaves Roberts battling with Ryan Izzo and Andrew Beck for the blocking tight end role.
As of now, Roberts has the inside track to winning that job. Izzo and Beck both have encouraging college tape, but neither tight end has played an NFL snap. Since we already know Roberts can handle the role, he should have the first shot at winning the job. Additionally, Roberts has been an effective receiver in small doses, and both the film and Pro Football Focus agree that he could develop into a decent weapon if given more of a chance.
The only other tight end of note on the roster is Stephen Anderson. Anderson, a California product, is much more of a receiver than a blocker and will continue to battle with LaCosse for the top pass-catching option. Anderson spent the first two years of his career with the Houston Texans before spending the majority of 2018 on the Patriots practice squad. The 26-year old has 36 receptions for 435 yards and two touchdowns in 28 professional games.
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