Over the next couple of days, Musket Fire will be running an end of year, ‘report card’ feature, that will give a final grade to each positional group for the 2013 season. Up next is the tight ends.
Final Grade: C+
After three years of dominating this position, the Pats came back down to earth in 2013, as this unit was one of the worst in the league. It all started with Aaron Hernandez getting locked up this past summer, and the injuries to star Rob Gronkowski added to New England’s trouble.
When Gronkowski was on the field, he was his usual unstoppable self. The combination of size, speed, strength, and athleticism he brings to the table is truly remarkable, making him an impossible cover for just about every defender in the NFL. But a horrible knee injury in week 14 ended his season, and it put the Pats in a tough situation on offense.
Gronkowski’s backup, Michael Hoomanawanui, performed well for the Pats, although not nearly up to the standard’s of Gronkowski. I thought Hooman was solid in the run game, but his work in the passing game needs some help. He doesn’t have the athletic skills of a Gronk, which relegates him to blocking most of the time. In that respect, Hooman had a great year, as I personally think he is one of the best blocking tight ends the NFL has. However his inability to make plays in the passing game hurt the Pats’ offense, especially when Julian Edelman was off his game. With that said, I can’t really say that we expected him to do this, as his job description when he came to New England was to back up Gronkowski and Hernandez.
Matthew Mulligan was the other tight end that made an impact for New England, and much like Hoomanawanui, Mulligan found himself on the field for blocking purposes 90% of the time. Although he did catch a touchdown back in week four, which was a cool moment for him.
There were a lot of reasons why the Patriots offense struggled at times this year, and one of the biggest ones was the lack of talent at the tight end position. When Gronkowski is in there, the Pats immediately have a mismatch in the passing game, and a great blocker in the run game. Without him there to take away coverage from the likes of Amendola and Edelman, teams were able to double New England’s receivers, which slowed down their attack throughout the year. Look for Bill Belichick and company to re-stock the tight end position this offseason, because 2013 showed just how important it is to have a good tight end in this league.