ESPN's Mike Reiss recently wrote a piece detailing the battle for the Patriots' third tight end spot after Matt Lengel's release and positing that the team might not elect to carry a backup to Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen (as they ended up doing for part of last year with Gronk and Martellus Bennett). Yet even if the team carries five running backs, it's highly likely that there will be room on the 53-man roster for a spare tight end. Who will it be?
Lengel, signed off the Bengals' practice squad for last season's Super Bowl run, was hampered by an undisclosed injury throughout training camp and was placed on injured reserve after clearing waivers (per CBS Sports). With him gone, the competition is mostly between undrafted free agent Jacob Hollister and former Chief James O'Shaugnessy. While both are 6'4" and more receivers than blockers, there are a few key differences between the two players. Primarily, O'Shaugnessy has extensive experience on special teams, and played in all 16 games for Kansas City on offense to boot last season. Though he's not as explosive a player as Hollister, he thrives at the thing Bill Belichick loves the most. After New England invested draft capital to trade for him (he came to New England along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for a fifth-rounder), he has to be considered the frontrunner for the job.
However, Hollister has wowed fans this preseason with his explosiveness and catching ability. According to PFF, Hollister gained 2.61 yards per route run--a mark that would make him the third most productive rookie tight end in the NFL this preseason. Against the Jaguars in the first week of exhibition games, the Wyoming grad showed poise and toughness in snagging 7 passes for 116 yards. However, he's practice-squad eligible and need sot refine his blocking work, making the team more likely to stash him off the 53-man and leave the possibility of a promotion open for a later date.
Either way, the team will most likely keep one of the two players on the active roster. While New England went with only Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett for a stretch last year after trading AJ Derby and parting ways with Clay Harbor, Gronk's injury issues have to factor in when remaking the roster a year later. Until the tight end proves he can play a full 16-game slate once again, a solid third tight end is a must-have for insurance. Right now, it looks like O'Shaugnessy is better positioned to be that insurance thanks to his special-teams utility. But if injuries happen and the Pats have to look for a dynamic receiving threat, Hollister might get a callup from the practice squad.