ESPN.com Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss posted on this today, and it is an interesting consideration given the current log-jam at wide receiver on the roster, and lack of depth at tight end.
The Patriots signed Harrison as an undrafted free agent last offseason after he went undrafted out of where else but Rutgers. He was brought in by the Bears prior to signing with New England but failed his physical due to a foot injury. He didn't appear in a game for the team over the course of the season, landing on injured reserve in late August.
But according to reports Harrison is on track to be ready for the offseason program, and his size makes him an intriguing option to fill in a depth role at tight end behind the three currently on the roster (Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui, D.J Williams). This would make sense looking at the receiver depth chart is well, which is currently somewhat full after the acquisition of free-agent Brandon LaFell and re-signing of Julian Edelman. Second year wideouts Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Josh Boyce figure to be on the roster as well.
Standing at 6'3", 235 pounds, Harrison could fit the mold of a smaller tight end. Many believe the Pats will address the position through the draft, but Reiss raises an interesting thought pointing to Harrison as a potential in-house solution. His size makes him an intriguing player. Here is his NFL.com draft profile from last off-season:
STRENGTHS: Great size, with a powerful build. Long arms. Uses his body to shield defenders from the football. Does a good job of coming back to the football. Better feet and quickness on comeback routes than you'd expect. Big-play and red-zone threat. Difficult to bring down with the ball in his hands, will run through arm tackles. Competitor. Good footwork as a blocker, extends arms, and gains proper position.
WEAKNESSES: Inconsistent with his hands, will drop some easy ones. Doesn't always extend off his frame like he should. A bit stiff in the hips, and will struggle with outbreaking routes. Will too frequently catch his targets as a blocker instead of attacking. Never has had tremendous production.
NFL COMPARISON: Marvin McNutt
BOTTOM LINE: Harrison hasn't always lived up to his measurables, and has had some ups and downs throughout his career at Rutgers. Still, his blend of size and athletic ability will result in some team taking a flier on him.
Whether the Patriots choose to pursue a tight end in the draft will obviously have a major impact on the team's tight end depth chart. It is an obvious area of need given the injury history of Rob Gronkowski and the drop-off in talent after him. The team does seem to be interested in evaluating the higher tier option at the position, as they have a visit planned with C.J. Fiedorowicz of Iowa, considered to be on the of the best tight ends in this draft.
Bill Belichick is a huge proponent of the "next man up" approach with his roster. Should they find themselves thin at tight end this season, there is chance Mark Harrison could contribute.