Alright, so here is some good news on a New England Patriots tight end, and it is confirmation that Jake Ballard continues to progress well and has had a successful rehab process in coming back from a sever knee injury over a year ago. The Patriots decision to steal Ballard off of waivers from the New York Giants was as cutthroat as it gets, and Ballard is more than just a luxury as a No. 3 tight end right now. With Rob Gronkowski’s health put into question and Aaron Hernandez involved in a murder investigation, the former Giants starting tight end is an important and valuable contingency plan. If you recall, he had a pretty awesome 2011 season as a first-year starter, and Ballard is poised for plenty of work in 2013 with the Patriots. The team is reportedly high on Ballard, and he has looked healthier with each passing practice this offseason.
According to the USA Today’s Mike Garafolo, Ballard is “almost 100%”, and he also called the Patriots move to sign Ballard “huge”. It certainly looks that way now, and it was a real steal for the New England Patriots. Morality of the move be damned, the Patriots look at the NFL like a laissez-faire business, and I doubt they would be making a stink if another team did this to them.
Ballard is just 25, and he caught 38 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns in 2011 with the Giants, and Ballard has the 6’6″, 275 pound frame to mostly replicate Rob Gronkowski’s success in the red zone. Of course he isn’t as good as Gronk (about a 1.5 win difference over a full season, according to some really geeky math stuff I once did on the site), but Ballard is as good of a Plan B option as the New England Patriots could have had. And with Hernandez’s future in doubt, Ballard’s improvement in health and place on the team are all the more important.
The interesting thing is that Ballard isn’t 10o% yet since his injury was suffered quite some time ago, but that just serves to underscore how severe his injury was. Microfracture is tricky business, but the New England Patriots don’t seem to be concerned that Ballard might come back from surgery limited in his knees. He hasn’t been an athletic player in the Gronk mold, but Ballard has more athleticism than people give him credit for. He’s also looked pretty mobile in minicamp, and I would say that we should be optimistic on Ballard.