Keene Insight: New England Patriots Tight End Dalton Keene Facing ‘Make or Break’ Season
In 2021, the tight end position was set to take center stage again for the New England Patriots offense.
However, beyond high-profile free acquisitions Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, the Pats have received little to no production from the position – something the team would no doubt prefer to change in 2022. To do this, the New England is counting on the progression of a pair of 2020 third-round selections, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.
Neither Asiasi nor Keene have lived up to expectations so far in their brief tenure as Patriots. While Asiasi spent much of his game day scratching, Keene has been something of an enigma since he first donned a Patriots jersey. Although an aura of potential has surrounded him for two seasons, he has rarely seen the pitch at professional level, mainly due to injury.
By a recent ESPN reportthe cloud of questionable health may still surround him as he approaches his third year with the Pats.
“It’s a breakthrough year for tight end Dalton Keene, the Patriots’ other 2020 third-round pick whose best hope of staying may be an H-back, and it doesn’t help that he has been limited for the past two weeks after suffering an undisclosed injury during the first OTA practice on May 23. The setback, while seemingly minor, reflects how the Virginia Tech alum has had a series of unfortunate breaks , including missing all of last season on IR.” — Mike Reiss
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Keene was selected by the Patriots in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft (101st overall) from Virginia Tech. Much like his rookie classmate and fellow Asiasi, Keene was disappointed in his first season in New England. Although he missed some time at the start of 2020 with a neck injury, the 22-year-old struggled to find solace in the Pats’ offense. He appeared in six games during his rookie season, recording three receptions for 16 yards on five targets.
Despite his first-season struggles, the Pats remained hopeful that Keene would be versatile enough to be deployed in the line, in the slot and in the backfield in 2021. The 22-year-old needed to use his time in camp to work. on improving his running route, while also taking a few reps at fullback. However, Keene was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list prior to the start of training camp. In August, he was transferred to injured reserve, after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus injury.
It remains unclear if Keene’s injury is related to his recovery from his off-season meniscus surgery, or if it stems from an unrelated issue. However, if he hopes to catch the attention of the Patriots coaching staff, he needs to show versatility and durability.
If healthy, Keene has the ability to move around the pitch, allowing him to line up as an H-back, back, or optionally in the slot or perimeter. In the wake of fullback Johnson’s defection to the Las Vegas Raiders, one should expect him to compete for a bigger role in the backfield; both as a blocker and as a powerful runner after the catch.
In the final analysis, Keene has the skills and potential to earn a spot on New England’s 53-man roster this season. To do this, however, he must stay on the pitch. While he may continue to take on a limited workload during the team’s next mandatory minicamp, Keene must do everything he can to regain near full strength for the start of training camp at the end of July. . If that turns out to be less than possible, he’ll face an uphill battle to earn a spot on the Patriots in 2022.