Dec 16, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (47) makes the catch against San Francisco 49ers strong safety Donte Whitner (31) during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the New England Patriots 41-34. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

A Look at the New England Patriots Tight End Situation

Yes, I’m fully aware of all that is going on with the Aaron Hernandez case. That said, there is not a whole lot anyone can do outside of watching the story unfold. However this all ends, the 2013 NFL season is still going to be played and the New England Patriots are still going to have to go out there and put forth their best effort for 16 weeks.

For that reason, I’d like to redirect your focus back to the playing field. Over the last few seasons, the catalyst for New England’s potent offense has been the elite play of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez. It’s looking more and more like the Patriots could be without both for a considerable chunk if not the entire 2013 season. In the case of Hernandez, perhaps even beyond that.

So who is behind these guys on the depth-chart? Who is going to step up in that role in an attempt to help New England execute their offense as planned in the absence of Gronkowski and Hernandez?

Here is a look, according to Ourlads.com, at the current players on the New England Patriot depth chart at the tight end position.

Jake Ballard

If he’s healthy, he is likely a leading candidate for a starting role. He’s not as dynamic or athletic as Hernandez or Gronkowski, but he blocks well, has decent hands and runs precise routes. The problem is that he hasn’t caught a pass in the NFL since Super Bowl XLVI on February 5, 2012, when the Giants defeated the Patriots.

Michael Hoomanawanui
Hoomanawanui proved to be a decent red-zone threat during his rookie year in St. Louis when he caught three touchdowns. He hasn’t really been utilized much since then by St. Louis or New England. That said, I think he has the potential to be extremely effective in a starting role should he be called upon.
Daniel Fells
Fells is another prototypical tight end who has gotten regular snaps in the past. He’s another guy who could come in handy in short yardage situations, both as a blocker and as a threat to sneak behind coverage on play-action.
Zach Sudfeld
Sudfeld has sleeper written all over him. The 6’7, 255 pounder had a solid season at the University of Nevada in 2012, hauling in 45 balls for 598 yards and eight touchdowns. I have a feeling that he is Bill Belichick’s insurance policy in the event that Gronkowski is not able to return to his old form.
Brandon Ford
The rookie out of Clemson has a Vernon Davis-type stocky build. He’s an explosive athlete who caught 40 balls in 2012 in an offense that also featured two future NFL wide receivers. He turned eight of those 40 catches into touchdowns — including one for 69 yards.
And let us not forget…
Tim Tebow
Yes, yes, yes. We all know he’s a quarterback. At least that’s what he wants to be. At the end of the day, he’s also one of the best athletes in the lockerroom. Belichick has a way of getting his best athletes on the field whenever he can. If filling in at tight end or h-back in the absence of Hernandez is how Belichick feels he can most benefit the team, don’t think for two seconds you won’t see Tebow out there catching screen passes and taking handoffs.

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Tags: Aaron Hernandez New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski Tim Tebow

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