The New England Patriots are hopeful that Rob Gronkowski will be ready for the season opener. However, whether or not Gronk is good to go for Week 1, there is a hole at the backup tight end position. North Carolina State standout Asa Watson has a great chance to separate himself from teammates Michael Hoomanawanui and Justin Jones to earn the depth chart spot behind Gronkowski.
A little background on Watson: he is the younger brother of former Patriots and current New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson. Older brother Benjamin was a favorite target of Tom Brady during his days in New England. The Patriots are hoping that Watson will take after his brother when it comes to getting open on third down and taking advantage of space in the middle of the field.
An injury-riddled 2013 season limited Watson to only three games as a senior. But in 2012, Watson was effective, pulling in 24 catches for 282 yards and a touchdown. Interestingly, those numbers compare to older brother Ben, who averaged 28 receptions per year in six seasons as a Patriot. If Watson can replicate that type of production, he will have a role in the offense.
Watson’s competition for that backup tight end position is Hoomanawanui and fellow undrafted rookie Jones. Hoomanawanui is a valuable blocker in the running game, but hasn’t shown that he can be a consistent threat as a receiver. And Jones is a physical dream at 6-foot-8 but didn’t play at all in 2013 because he was academically ineligible, so rust could be an issue for him.
Watson has several intangibles that should give him the upper hand in the race for the second tight end spot, including high football IQ and character. If he can complement these attributes with a strong performance in training camp, Watson will definitely win the backup tight end job. Considering how often Gronkowski is injured, don’t be surprised if Watson becomes a main contributor at the tight end position.