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We move along in our training camp previews to an always revolving position in Foxboro, the tight ends. From Ben Coates to Daniel Graham to Ben Watson, the Patriots have always had many options at the TE position, even if they’ve never had a superstar like Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates. This year’s crop looks deeper than in the recent past and will provide the Patriots with a lot of options through receiving and blocking packages.
2008 stats: 22 rec, 209 yards, 2 TD
2009 Forecast: Benjamin Watson will always be know for, and measured up to, “the chase.” Of course we’re talking about the 2005 AFC Divisional playoff game in Denver where Ben Watson ran 100+ yards and caught up to Champ Bailey, knocking the ball out of his hands for what should have been a touch back, but instead was a “mile high” touchdown. Fair or not, it’s safe to say that play has lifted the expectations so high from Patriots fans that almost no player could have lived up to them. Watson certainly hasn’t.
With Watson, it’s not the physical skills or the speed, but the hands. It seems too often Watson would find room underneath only to drop pass after pass. His numbers aren’t terrible over the past few years but he now, more than ever, he needs to be looking over his shoulder in the depth chart. Watson has turned into a decent blocking tight end but we’d all love to see him get open down the field more often. This season with a lot of offensive weapons, it will be interesting to see whether the Patriots use their tight ends for more running packages as blockers. I don’t see any tight end, even one as skilled as Watson, having a significant effect on the passing game. With plenty of receivers and lots of receiving running backs, it could be another sub par year for Ben Watson.
2009 Projected stats: 25 rec, 200 yards, 2 TD
2008 stats: 21 rec, 194 yards, 0 TD
2009 Forecast: Baker comes over after seven years with the New York Jets organization and has a very similar career stat line to Ben Watson – 145 catches, 1,505 yards and 12 touchdowns. He faces an uphill battle with Watson simply because it’s his first year in the system. As we all know Bill Belichick loves versatility and options and that’s what Baker brings. He is also a good blocking tight end and will provide cover and competition in camp. Baker may not have all that many catches in 2009 but will give the Patriots just another option in a loaded offense.
2009 Projected stats: 15 rec, 90 yards, 1 TD
2008 stats: 9 rec, 93 yards, 0 TD
2009 Forecast: David Thomas came onto the scene with a bang in his rookie season but since has suffered due to injury. While not used primarily as a blocking tight end, Thomas is almost like another wide receiver as he is taller and lanky than your conventional tight end. I always thought he would fit in great as an alternative to Ben Watson but as of yet just hasn’t gotten a foot hold in the system. With the addition of Baker, the tight end spot will become more muddied and it will be up to Thomas to have a good training camp/pre-season to show he belongs on the team. I just don’t see him getting many touches in this offense.
2009 Projected stats: 5 rec, 40 yards, 0 TD
The Patriots certainly have quality options at tight end. Besides the three mentioned above there is second year pro Tyson DeVree and newly acquired Alex Smith, who caught 11 TDs in four seasons with Tampa Bay. Waston has the clear path to the starting job but with the complex schemes the Patriots will be running, you may see a lot of mixing and matching to find the right combination of players. I don’t see more than a few hundred yards of receiving out of the whole bunch but they will provide beneficial run blocking throughout the season. Who knows, maybe we’ll see another Ben Watson miracle chase in 2009.