The Patriots’ top two tight ends spots are almost certainly a lock: Rob Gronkowski, healthy after recovering from back surgery, and Dwayne Allen, the former Indianapolis Colt.
But New England will likely want to have a third on its roster, which will be determined on Sept. 2 when the final cut is made from 90 to 53. In addition to Gronkowski and Allen, the team is currently carrying four other tight ends: James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Jacob Hollister, and Sam Cotton.
Here is a closer look at the first three, who are in arguably better position to secure that potential third spot after solid training camps:
Height/weight: 6-4/245. College: Illinois State. Hometown: Naperville, Ill.
Path to New England: The Kansas City Chiefs drafted O’Shaughnessy in the fifth round in 2015. In April, they traded him and a sixth-round pick to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick.
Career stats: He played in 23 games over two seasons with the Chiefs, including six starts. He made six catches on eight targets for 86 yards.
Briefly: He was hampered in training camp with an undisclosed injury, missing reps for several days. After sitting out the preseason opener, he bounced back against the Texans, logging 34 snaps and finishing with a team-high five catches for 41 yards. Jimmy Garoppolo called him “an impressive athlete;” Bill Belichick said he showed some “good things’’ after returning to practice, but that he was also “a little rusty.’’ In a practice last week, he made his best catch of camp, snagging a Garoppolo pass between two defenders. In the same session, he also went airborne to pull down a Tom Brady pass. He has also had some drops. In a session last week, he stopped running a route to the end zone only to watch a Brady ball go long and fall incomplete. He picked up key specials teams experience in his time with Kansas City, which is valued in New England.
More on him: O’Shaughnessy was a three-year letterman in football and basketball at Naperville North High school. He finished his senior year with 184 yards and a touchdown on 19 catches and added 294 yards on 10 kickoff returns. He earned all-conference academic honors as a junior and senior, and was an all-area and all-conference pick as a senior.
■ Jim O’Shaughnessy, his father, played basketball at DePaul, and Sally Davis, his mother, ran track at Drake.
■ Before his senior year at Illinois State, he got a black-and-white tattoo on his left arm. It is of Muhammad Ali’s knockout of Sonny Liston and an Ali quote: “Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’’
“It’s just a constant reminder of, as a football player, what I put myself through,’’ O’Shaughnessy told the Kansas City Star in 2015. “The next year, we were fortunate enough to go the national title [game]. It was just something that reminded me through the dog days to keep grinding.’’
■ O’Shaughnessy helped Illinois State reach the FCS national championship game as a senior. The team fell to North Dakota State in the title game, 29-27, but O’Shaughnessy accounted for two touchdowns.
■ In the game, he made a ferocious tackle on special teams, knocking him out of the final offensive series. He was known for going full-throttle on special teams for the Redbirds.
Illinois State assistant coach Greg McLain said the team actually had to limit O’Shaughnessy’s time on special teams as a senior to preserve him for the offense.
“I think he would be a great special teams player, and he can be a guy that may not bear down on a line of scrimmage or embark right away on the opposition, but he’s a very motivated player,’’ McLain said in 2015. “He’s really a ‘move’ guy. And he can really run, and move around a little bit. He’s fast in college, but he will pick up speed and adapt right away.’’
■ He finished his college career with 67 catches, 1,170 yards, and 14 touchdowns in 49 games. He scored nine touchdowns in his senior year alone.
■ He was the first Illinois State tight end to be selected in the NFL Draft.
■ He went on injured reserve during his rookie year with a foot injury.
■ The Patriots actually worked out O’Shaughnessy before the 2015 draft.
“He was a player that we liked that year and the Chiefs ended up picking him,’’ said Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio after trading for the tight end. “He’s had some experience offensively and he’s had a decent role in the kicking game down there in Kansas City and he’s a young player, so we’ll put him in the mix.’’
“I remember working out for them in the predraft process and they were a team I was excited to work out for,’’ said O’Shaughnessy.
Height/weight: 6-4/239. College: Wyoming. Hometown: Bend, Ore.
Path to New England: The Patriots signed Hollister as an undrafted rookie in the spring.
College stats: He finished his three-year Wyoming career with 75 catches for 1,114 yards, and 12 scores. As as senior, he ranked third on the team with 32 catches for 515 yards. His seven touchdowns were second-most on the squad.
Briefly: Hollister churned out a seven-catch, 116-yard performance in the Patriots’ preseason opener. On his first catch, he held onto a Garoppolo dart while absorbing a big hit from Jaguars safety Jarrod Wilson. He held onto another Garoppolo pass with two defenders in his face on a play that resulted in his helmet popping off and an unsportsmanlike penalty on the two Jaguars. In a session early in training camp, he caught a Garoppolo pass threaded between Brooks Ellis and Jordan Richards for a touchdown. Belichick called him “a hard-working kid’’ who has “made improvement,’’ but that he needs work in all phases of his game: blocking, pass-catching, and special teams. The Globe’s Jim McBride and Ben Volin have each written that if Hollister misses on the 53-man roster, he is a lock for the practice squad.
More on him: Hollister and his twin brother, Cody, were born an hour and a half apart. Jacob is older.
■ His father, Evan, said he would blindfold Jacob has a kid, instruct him on a seven-step drop, and have him launch the football as far as possible.
“The first time he threw it and completed it you could see a light bulb went on: ‘Cool. I can huck it to a spot and [Cody] will be there,’ ’’ Evan said in 2010.
■ Hollister played quarterback in high school for Mountain View (Ore.). As a sophomore, he took over for an injured senior quarterback, starting the last eight games of the season.
■ As a senior in 2011, he keyed an offense that helped lead Mountain View to its first state championship ever.
“Me and Cody, we’ve been dreaming about this since kindergarten,’’ Hollister said after the title game. “It’s just an amazing experience.’’
■ He earned 2011 Oregon Class 5A Player of the Year honors and finished his career with 65 touchdown passes and more than 4,400 yards, setting Mountain View records.
■ He finished high school with nine total varsity letters across football, basketball, and baseball. He pitched for the Cougars as the No. 2 starter, utilizing his off-speed skills.
■ Hollister lacked any Division I football scholarship offers out of high school. So he redshirted as a walk-on quarterback at the University of Nevada in 2012 before transferring to Arizona Western Community College in Yuma, Ariz., the following year.
■ Along with his brother, Hollister contacted Arizona Western coach Tom Minnick via e-mail to make their pitch. It did not take long for Minnick to contact them, and offer them scholarships.
“They called me up and said, ‘Coach, we’re not on scholarship and we need a chance,’ ’’ Minnick told the Bend Bulletin in 2014.
“They’re both athletic and really good football players, so I took a shot on them coming down here. And I said, ‘Here’s the deal: As long as you take care of your grades and everything like that, you guys will end up bigger than Nevada.’ ’’
■ Upon arriving in Yuma, Hollister made the position change from quarterback to tight end.
“It was kind of tough, because growing up and playing quarterback your whole life, it’s hard to get out of that mindset,’’ Hollister said in 2014. “But then you have to look forward to, ‘What position can I take the furthest? What position do I have the best opportunity at?’
“I thought that was tight end.’’
■ Jacob and Cody wanted to earn their associate degrees in one semester so they could qualify as mid-year transfers to Division I schools. So they each took 24 credits the fall term of 2013.
■ After finishing the 2013 season in Yuma with 10 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, Hollister transferred to Wyoming, where he played for three seasons.
■ Between the end of the 2015 season and the start of the 2016 season, Hollister added 20 pounds of muscle, going up to 239 pounds and improving his confidence as a blocker.
“It just makes everything easier,’’ Hollister told the Casper Star Tribune in 2016. “You really don’t know until you have the weight because I’ve never been this heavy before, and it just make everything easier when it comes to blocking that edge and things like that. That’s the kind of tight ends we need in this offense, so I really made a point to put on weight this offseason.
“When you’re light, you go into every block knowing you’ve got less pound on the guys. But when you know you’ve got that advantage, it definitely makes a difference.’’
■ In Wyoming’s upset of No. 13 Boise State last season, Hollister reeled in six catches for 144 yards and six touchdowns, earning him Mountain West offensive player of the week honors.
■ He said last season that when football is done, he would like to get into real estate, and studied business administration at Wyoming.
Height/weight: 6-7/266. College: Eastern Kentucky. Hometown: Mechanicsburg, Pa.
Path to New England: The Cincinnati Bengals signed Lengel as an undrafted rookie in 2015. He spent that season the their practice squad. He started the 2016 on their practice squad before the Patriots signed him to their active roster in November.
Career stats: In six games for the Patriots last season, Lengel recorded two catches on three targets for 22 yards and a touchdown, an 18-yard dart from Tom Brady.
Briefly: Lengel is a better blocker than either O’Shaughnessy or Hollister and provides a bigger target in the passing game. And although it was only a few months, Lengel has the advantage of serving as a backup last season and being more familiar with the system.
More on him: Lengel started playing football in second grade.
“We were moving to a new school district in Cumberland Valley, where I went to high school,’’ he said last year. “I had a dream, woke up, and told my dad, ‘I want to go play football.’ A couple days later, we got signed up and got all the pads. I’ve played ever since.’’
■ As a senior in high school at Cumberland Valley, his team went 12-2, and played a playoff game in 5-degree, snowy conditions.
“In Cumberland Valley, like many school districts, we run the same offense all the way from second grade to senior year,’’ he said. “Same guys, same colors, same names, same plays. It was 10 years that all built up to that senior year. It was a great year, but we lost in the championship.’’
■ He “wanted to go to Penn State more than anything.’’ He said his desire to be a Nittany Lion outweighed his dream to play in the NFL. However, Northeastern was the only program to offer him a full ride, so he had to take it.
■ He started his college football career at Northeastern, redshirting in 2009, but transferred to Eastern Kentucky after the Huskies did away with their football program at the end of his freshman season. He said the team was told of the school’s decision to pull the plug on the program the day after the last game of the season, summoning the players to the women’s basketball arena for a meeting.
“They called us in and you just have this feeling of, ‘What do I do now?’ ’’ he said.
“They were very nice, as nice as they could be about it. They honored guys’ scholarships if you wanted to stay and if you wanted to leave you could leave and come back to graduate from Northeastern and they would honor your scholarship when you came back.
“Once it all happened, whatever the reasons were, they were very professional about it. There were no hard feelings from me. It was a decision that was made and a lot of guys were upset about it and some rightfully so. Again, once it hit and once everything happened, everybody had to figure out what was going on.’’
■ After getting the news, Lengel questioned whether he would be able to play again.
“I had just been redshirted and only had one full ride coming out of college, so who’s going to want me now?’’ Lengel said. “I thought I’d be off the radar for everybody.’’
■ But he got a shot at Eastern Kentucky beginning in 2010, spending five seasons there.
He tore his ACL at the start of the 2012 season, forcing him to miss the entire season. He reinjured the same knee in 2013, missing all but two games, before the NCAA granted him another year of eligibility for the 2014 season. He played in 12 games that season and made 16 catches for 139 yards.
■ He finished his EKU career with 361 yards and two touchdowns on 33 catches in 37 games.
“I met a lot of great people and had a ton of fun,’’ he said of his time at EKU. “Even with injuries and everything — adversity is going to face everybody — it taught me a lot of good lessons. We always had a good football team, never had a losing record, and went to the playoffs a few times. Some of the guys on that team are going to be my groomsmen coming up in June.’’
Earlier this summer, Lengel married Lauren Cumbess, who played softball at Kentucky.
■ When his agent called him to tell him the Patriots signed him off the Bengals’ practice squad, he had just gotten back from London with Cincinnati and was watching “The Voice’’ with his fiance.
■ He earned his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Kentucky in political science in May 2013.