By: Drew Belton
Martellus Bennett doesn’t have the best reputation off the field after his time in Chicago, but the 6’6 tight end is highly talented and could provide the kind of production that the Patriots have been looking for at the second tight end position. With the addition of Bennett, the Patriots could look to use more two tight end sets and reestablish their play-action game. Gronk and Bennett could emerge into a very dangerous duo and make things very difficult for opposing defenses, making Bennett the X-factor for Patriots fans this upcoming season.
Here are Bennett’s stats over the span of his career:
Bennett’s stats last season are significantly down compared to his previous season as he played 5 games less than he did in 2014. But look at his numbers from 2012 to 2014, when he played 16 games each year. Bennett increased his production every year, and nearly had a 1000 yard season for Chicago in 2014. When targeted at least 90 times in a season, he averages 767 yards receiving. Bennett also proved to be reliable in the redzone, hauling in 16 touchdowns in those 3 seasons combined. Since 2012, he has had at least 53 receptions in each season.
In an offense with options like Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman slated in to receive most of the targets from Tom Brady, where does Bennett fit, and what kind of production can Patriots fans expect? To better predict what kind of role in the offense Bennett will have, lets take a look at the Patriots leaders in receiving statistics for the 2015 season.
Gronk is in store for another 100 targets and 1000 receiving yards next year, as well as Edelman, if both stay healthy. But beyond the top two Patriots receiving options, there is no clear #3 for production and targets. Bennett will be a good candidate to fill this 3rd spot along with Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and newly acquired Chris Hogan. Amendola had an average season last year, and Lewis was often an option for Tom Brady, totaling 50 targets in just 7 games before a season ending injury. Hogan has yet to have a season with over 41 receptions.
With an additional 116 targets from last year unfulfilled with the departures of Brandon LaFell and Scott Chandler, there is opportunity for a member of the Patriots offense to step up and become a key weapon to the offense. Martellus Bennett could be that guy for New England.The Patriots haven’t had a talented pass catcher in the second tight end spot since the infamous Aaron Hernandez.
If you’ve forgotten how Hernandez looked in the Patriots offense before his arrest, here are his career numbers:
Aaron Hernandez averages per season: 87 targets, 652 yards receiving, 6 TD’s.
Compared to Bennett when targeted 90 times: 767 yards receiving, 5.3 TD’s
Bennett may not reach the 90 target mark, but his 6’6 frame along with the 6’6 Rob Gronkowski could provide matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. The duo of Gronk and Bennett could be the extra firepower the Patriots need to win another Lombardi trophy. Although Bennett is new to New England, he should be able to show his worth and earn the trust of Brady as the season progresses. Opposing teams providing most of their focus on Gronk and Edelman could open things up for Bennett this upcoming season, especially as target in the red zone.
Rex Ryan spoke on March 24th about the duo of Gronk and Bennett at the AFC coaches breakfast in an article written by ESPN’s Mike Rodak. Ryan speculated how the Bills would go about covering the two 6’6 tight ends.
“I have no idea,” Ryan said. “I just think it’s unusual to have two guys that are like 6-[foot]-7 and can run, catch, block. So, yeah, it’s going to be a major challenge. There’s no doubt about that. It’s scary when you look at them. Those are two huge guys. How we’re going to defend them, I don’t know.”
Ryan’s comments on the difficulties of covering Gronkowski and Bennett may be just the start of the headaches the duo could create for opposing defensive coordinators.
Martellus Bennett 2016 prediction: 80 Targets, 55 Receptions, 675 yards, 8 touchdowns
Bennett could prove to be even more explosive and productive for the Patriots, but without knowing how he will gel into the New England offense, that should be reason to pump the breaks a bit. He should be able to repeat his past four seasons of hitting the 53 receptions mark, as he did with New York and Chicago. If Bennett proves he can function well in the Patriots offense, he could come close to reaching numbers near his career high 2014 season.
The tight end is entering a contract year, giving him all the more reason to have a productive season, which could result in him being on the receiving end of a big pay day in free agency. A good fit between the Patriots and Bennett could provide New England fans the tight end duo they haven’t seen since the downfall of Aaron Hernandez, and at only the cost of a 4th round pick, he becomes one of the crucial pieces to the Patriot’s chances of playing in Houston for Super Bowl 51.
Patriot’s fans will have to wait until September to see if he can develop a rapport with Tom Brady, and form a two-headed monster with the best tight end in the National Football League, Rob Gronkowski. For that reason, Bennett becomes the X-factor for the Patriots, his play could determine how far the Patriots go, and whether they bring hardware back to Foxboro in February.