By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Leading up to the 2021 Patriots season, we'll be taking a look at a specific storyline that will have our attention throughout the season. Today we dive into the New England's revamped group of tight ends who, if healthy, will wreak some havoc this season.
The uncertainty at receiver that we highlighted earlier may not matter as much as it has in years past because the Patriots added two stud tight ends during the offseason in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Considering what the Patriots got out of the position in 2020, production from tight ends should increase 1,000 percent in 2021.
We'll leave last year in the past, because it was brutal from a tight end standpoint. This year should be much, much better as the team returns to the days of having two monsters at the position.
Smith is a YAC king and will be a big play threat whenever he has the ball in his hands. We got a brief glimpse of this in the first preseason game against Washington when he turned what should have been a short reception into a 16-yard gain, shedding a number of defenders along the way.
Easy money indeed.
And then there is Henry, who will give Jones a monster target in the end zone. All four of his TD receptions last season with the Chargers came in the red area, and three of his five in 2019. He's going to command a lot of attention when the opposing defense has its back against the end zone, and that will help open the field for everyone else in the offense.
We should see plenty of this tight end duo on the field at the same time, something we haven't seen in New England in quite some time. That should mean some great things for Mac Jones and the rest of the Patriots offense.
"It's been great, us feeding off each other's energy, pushing each other on the practice field and in the weight room," Smith said of his relationship with Henry following Monday's first practice of Week 1. "Being able to give each other a push – that's the greatest part ever. We have each other's back, so it's definitely good to have a guy like that around. Part of my game will rub off on him, his game will rub off on me and we'll go together."
"It's fun," added Henry. "We missed that for a little bit in camp, both of us not being out there. But once we're out there and rolling it's a good competition. I love being able to build that chemistry with him on the field; talk to him about how I see things, how he sees things. He's a tremendous player and is going to continue to get better, and I'm glad to be in the room with him."
The biggest concern with both of the newcomers is whether or not they can stay healthy. Smith suffered an ankle injury after the first preseason game and didn't see any game action the rest of the way. He should be good to go in Week 1, but missing time in your first camp with a new team is never good. Henry was also banged up in camp, suffering a shoulder injury, and took zero preseason snaps. They both put in work on the practice field, but Week 1 is going to be their first extended action in the New England offense.
Henry, on Monday, sounded confident that he'll be suiting up for Week 1 against Miami.
"I'm just trying to get better every day and apply myself every day, be ready to go when we get to Sunday," he said.
Should either go down, it will be up to second-year tight end Devin Asiasi to fill the void. He had a rough rookie season after having a strange training camp and no preseason, but showed signs during this year's exhibition games that he can be a solid backup.
If Smith and Henry are healthy, they are going to give the Patriots two incredibly gifted offensive players out of the tight end position. But their health is the biggest factor in them making a major impact in 2021 and beyond.
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