Jan 13, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) is pursued by Houston Texans safety Daniel Manning (38) in the AFC Divisional Round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Texans 41-28. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
For the past three seasons, outside of quarterback, the tight end position has arguably been the most talented area for the New England Patriots. Mainstays like Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have wowed us with what they have been able to in just a short amount of time, not only helping to revolutionize the Patriots offence, but also being able to help revolutionize offences around the league who know look to replicate what the Patriots have been able to do with their tight ends. Outside those two, the Patriots have been able to stock up on other tight end talent that can have great effect on the team’s offence, without being on the field for very much time. With so much variation at the position right now, the Patriots are able to do a lot of things on offence, which will help the development of young wide receivers. With that being said, here’s my prediction as to who will be making up the tight end position at the start of the 2013 NFL season.
1. Aaron Hernandez- I put Aaron Hernandez in the number one slot because of the major injury troubles Rob Gronkowski has been experiencing last season, and this off-season. Last year Hernandez emerged as arguably Brady’s favourite weapon. Being so versatile, he can line up at tight end, wide receiver or even in the backfield, and be dangerous at all three spots. He’s not your prototypical tight end in terms of size, but he makes up for his lack of size with superior speed at his position, making him a true matchup nightmare for defences. An unfortunate injury near the beginning of the 2012 season really hampered Hernandez’s production, as he ended up only playing 10 games, but was still very effective, totaling 51 receptions, 483 yards and 5 touchdowns, so I have no doubt in my mind when I say that I expect a career year for Mr. Hernandez, as he becomes the most reliable target Brady knows with Wes Welker in Denver.
2. Rob Gronkowski- Rob Gronkowski, you’re true to the definition, prototypical tight end in today’s NFL. He’s got great size at 6’6 265, fantastic hands, good route runner, can go up and get a jump ball and is arguably the best blocking tight end in football right now. Why is he number two on the depth chart? Because he just cannot stay on the field. Injuries have really been piling up for Gronk this offseason as he’s totaled five surgeries this offseason already, and is expected to miss training camp. That being said, I still expect Gronk to return at least somewhat close to 100% by the time the regular season comes around, and all Patriots fans know that this guys 75% is better than most guys 100%. If he can return to his 2012 form, then the Patriots will be in good form, but I think all Patriots Nation is concerned about is making sure he’s just able to get on the field in the first place.
3. Michael Hoomanawanui- Did I spell it right? I love Hoomanawanui’s blocking ability, and so do the Patriots staff, so I expect him to see some time like he did last season. While he may not see action in every game due to matchups the Patriots see from team to team, we should see Hoomanawanui make at least some impact here and there. It may be a pain to spell and pronounce his name, but provides some valuable depth and blocking, and maybe the rare catch if necessary.
4. Jake Ballard- Patriots fans have been very patient in waiting for Ballard to make his debut with the team, as he was picked up off of waivers from the Giants after he injured his knee before the 2012 season. Ballard can bring a multitude of skills to the table. He’s similar in size to Rob Gronkowski, 6’6 275, an excellent blocker and a good pass catcher as well. While he may not the light the world on fire with his production, he’s a nice fourth option, and could fill in admirably with Gronk’s status to start the year in major question. With a year to sit back and learn the Patriots playbook, I expect Ballard to finally make his impact on the team, after joining them almost 12 months ago.
With that being said, the Patriots will do what they usually do, and bring in many more tight ends into camp to try to spice up the position. Daniel Fells is still with the team from last year, and could see time in the absence of Rob Gronkowski. Guys like Zach Sudfield and Brandon Ford were added in the undrafted free agency period, and while they likely will not make the team, could always be on the practice squad. With all this being said, whom do you guys expect to make the team at tight end? Who should be brought in for a look? Write up a comment with your thoughts, agree or disagree, and let me know what you think!
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