The New England Patriots need Jake Ballard to be fully healthy coming off of knee reconstruction surgery, and they need him to show the same kind of ability and productivity he gave to the New York Giants in his first season starting in 2011. Ballard will step into a tight end situation that is uncertain at the top end, with Aaron Hernandez out of the picture and Rob Gronkowski potentially on the PUP list for the start of the season. Right now, Ballard is the No. 2 tight end to Gronk, but he would most closely replace Gronk as the “traditional” TE in the Pats scheme.
We are all optimistic that Ballard is back on track, and he is almost 100%, which actually underscores how severe his knee injury was. The Boston Globe’s Zuri Berry writes that Jake Ballard appeared “rigid” at OTAs and minicamp, and I remember reading an article on ESPN Boston that stated he looked a bit stiff at OTAs. That isn’t a surprise considering Ballard isn’t completely recovered yet, but it does make you wonder a little bit. I still expect Ballard to be fine going into the regular season, and hopefully a TE who is not known for his athleticism plays without any issues following the ACL tear over a year ago.
Jake Ballard could be the Patriots best tight end to start the regular season if Gronkowski ends up on the PUP, and we’ll see how how he fares out with pads in training camp. The decision to be cutthroat and pluck away Ballard has paid off for the Patriots, but how much it pays off could be dictated by how Ballard comes back. I’m not too concerned about that, though, even if Ballard’s left knee injuries were substantial.