The New England Patriots have a creative head coach, which means we might see a creative solution to their tight end situation, which means turning running back Shane Vereen into one.
While Vereen isn’t going to be an end-of-the line kind of player, his versatility and receiving abilities, shown at their best in the Thanksgiving game against the New York Jets (2 receptions, 91 yards) and in the postseason against the Texans (5 receptions, 83 yards), have a good chance of being used more and more next season considering their tight end situation.
Just a reminder – Aaron Hernandez, facing a murder trial, is off the team, while Rob Gronkowski is currently recovering from yet another surgery, which leaves the not-so-talented group of Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, Zach Sudfeld and Michael Hoomanawanui to fill in the gaps for a team that loves to run in a two-tight end set.
Vereen can be used in a number of ways, and aligned all across the field, mostly taking advantage of his matchup with slower linebackers. With the Patriots being so much about dominating the matchups and dictating how a defense reacts, Vereen is an asset that has to be used more, especially under the current situation.
Vereen isn’t the only player in the NFL who presents problems for other teams when aligned in nontraditional positions. The Vikings used Percy Harvin that way before his injury, and so did the Houston Texans with James Casey or the Green Bay Packers with Randall Cobb.
This doesn’t mean that the Patriots can’t use a tight end in Ballard of Fells (the likeliest options to see most of the action), although they can still dive into the depleted free agency market and see what comes out.
Getting over the loss of Hernandez is going to take some time, probably as long as it takes for Gronkowski to get back to his pre-injury form. In the meanwhile, using Vereen in a one or non tight end formation seems to be the best answer the Pats, with the current group of players, can provide.