Martellus Bennett meets the media earlier this spring. (Michael Petraglia/WEEI.com photo)
As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re going to take a look at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.
10. Tight end Martellus Bennett
Weight: 248 pounds
Age: 29 (will turn 30 on March 10)
Resume: A second-round pick of the Cowboys in the 2008 draft out of Texas A&M, Bennett was part of a two-tight end attack with teammate Jason Witten in his first four years in the league. His breakout year really came in 2012 with the Giants, when he caught a career-best 55 passes. That jumpstarted his most recent four-year stretch where he’s averaged 66 catches a year the last four years, including 90 in 2014 with the Bears. The brother of Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett, the Patriots acquired Martellus and a sixth-round selection from the Bears this past offseason for a fourth-round pick. His New England career is in its infancy, but Patriots fans have quickly came to see that why he’s developed a reputation as one of the more offbeat characters in the league, embracing the nickname “The Black Unicorn” and working as an illustrator and children’s author.
Why we ranked him here: The second new veteran we have on this list (defensive end Chris Long was the first), Bennett isn’t on the countdown because of what he’s done to this point, but what he’s capable of achieving in the New England passing game. Since 2010, one of the fundamental elements to the Patriots’ offense has been the two tight end set, with Rob Gronkowski and (fill in the blank) working in tandem against opposing defenses, and the new guy seems to be an excellent fit. Based on Bennett’s previous body of work and what he did over the course of the spring practices, if the duo can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think they can’t challenge the mark for most production in a single season at the tight end spot. (The 2011 Patriots, with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, set the standard with 169 catches for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns.) Bennett not only has an impressive pair of hands, but has also shown an ability to be a willing blocker. One thing certainly worth watching is the fact that Bennett is heading into the final year of his contract; it’ll be interesting to see how that particular part of the drama plays out. But that’s for down the road. At this point, when it comes to on-field possibilities with Bennett, the sky is the limit.
Quote: “Dr. Seuss said, ‘No one can be you-er than you.’ Oscar Wilde said, ‘Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.’ I can only be one person. I just try and continue to be who I am and don’t change that. I’m a little chameleon. I just try and fit in wherever I am. When you’re authentic, people appreciate that.” — Bennett speaking with reporters on 6/8/16
“I have no idea. 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.” — Bills coach Rex Ryan on how Buffalo will attempt to defend Gronkowski and Bennett when the two are on the field together this season, 3/22/16
Random Note: Bennett declared for the NBA draft after his senior season at Alief Taylor High School in Texas, but he withdrew from the draft shortly beforehand and decided to go to Texas A&M. (He averaged 23 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a senior in basketball.)