The New England Patriots have nice depth at the tight end positional group entering training camp this season and although it is clear Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett sit atop the depth chart, who will win the third tight end spot?
The battle between second year player AJ Derby and newly signed free agent veteran Clay Harbor has been interesting this summer, as both tight ends are making it difficult on the coaching staff to decide who to give the third string nod to.
It seems as if reporters present at Patriots practices have had something to say about plays that AJ Derby is making almost every day of camp.
Garoppolo comes off his first read to find TE AJ Derby for a TD in 7-on-7 red zone work at #PatsCamp
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) July 28, 2016
AJ Derby showed up again with a catch down the sidelines vs Chung/Butler. Ball was perfectly thrown by Brady
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) August 8, 2016
Scrimmage ends with Tom Brady-led 2-minute offense scoring TD (to DeAndre Carter) and 2-point conversion (to AJ Derby) to win, 11-10.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 7, 2016
It is difficult to say that a second year tight end in AJ Derby who spent his entire rookie year waived/injured by New England has the inside track over a veteran like Clay Harbor, but Harbor has only just come off the PUP as of August 7 and has some catching up to do if he wants to be that third guy.
Bill Belichick praised the tight end position, from top to bottom, during a camp presser on August 4th and said it might be the best he’s had in New England. Rookie free agent Bryce Williams has also had an intriguing camp and may push for a roster spot. It may not come as a shock to many if the Patriots decide to keep four tight ends this year, with Derby and Harbor vying for depth chart glory through camp and possibly throughout the entire 2016-17 season.
Final prediction: AJ Derby will get the nod for the third TE spot, but Clay Harbor will make the 53-man roster as well and should gain ground on Derby if injuries force the next man up.