In his second season after being a sixth-round pick, AJ Derby has already been flipped for profit — in terms of draft picks, at least.
The Denver Broncos sent a 2017 fifth-round pick to the New England Patriots for the quarterback-turned-tight end, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and later confirmed by the Broncos.
“AJ is a young tight end who can help us immediately,” Broncos general manager John Elway said. “He has tremendous upside and will fit in well on our team.”
Broncos traded a 2017 draft to New England for TE AJ Derby, per source. https://t.co/q4iAghsnQM
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 25, 2016
The Patriots selected Derby out of Arkansas with the 202nd pick of the 2015 NFL draft, but he didn’t play a snap his rookie season because of an injury that forced him on injured reserve. He made his debut in the Patriots’ first game of the 2016 season but has yet to record a reception.
Derby played only a season of tight end at Arkansas and was considered a project – albeit one with upside — when he entered the NFL. The now-Bronco began his college career as a quarterback at Iowa, before transferring to a community college and then spending his final two college seasons with the Razorbacks, making the transition to tight end in his final season.
In 2013, Derby completed 19 of 36 pass attempts in his only collegiate quarterbacking experience. But Bret Bielema made the prescient decision to move the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Derby to tight end for his senior season and garnered himself one of the top tight ends in the SEC. Derby caught 22 passes for 303 yards before the Patriots spent a sixth-rounder on him.
For context, the Pats acquired fellow tight end Martellus Bennett over the offseason for a fourth-round pick. Derby hasn’t caught a pass this season, while Bennett and his 367 receiving yards have teamed up with Rob Gronkowski to form the league’s most lethal duo of tight ends.
Derby did, however, see action in the preseason, making 15 catches for 187 yards. He’ll join a Broncos team that hasn’t had a dominant tight end since it let Julius Thomas walk in free agency two years ago. Virgil Green is currently listed as the Broncos’ No. 1 tight end, with Jeff Heuerman and John Phillips slotting in behind him.