New England Patriots: 5 Second-year Players who Need to Step-up in 2016

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /
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Second-year tight end AJ Derby:

New England Patriots
Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports /

Since 2013 when tight end Aaron Hernandez was released prior to his arrest and subsequent homicide conviction the New England Patriots have been trying to find a second option behind All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. Michael Hoomanawanui never filled Gronkowski’s big shoes and former Bills tight end Scott Chandler was a huge disappointment.

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If Chandler–who was stapled to the bench in the last quarter of the 2015 season and playoffs–is released, the Patriots will have just Gronkowski and blocking tight end Michael Williams back. However, it does leave room for the 2015 sixth-round draft choice AJ Derby, who missed his entire rookie year on injured reserve, to step up and be a factor at tight end.

Derby was a college quarterback who converted to tight end as a senior and was a longshot to make the roster. However, his size and physical skills continue to make him an intriguing prospect. His quarterback background–like wide receiver Julian Edelman–gives him the football IQ to assist in picking up the complicated New England offense.

Derby will need to impress in training camp after having missed not only the season but almost all of the preseason as well. Although likely far behind in the competition, Derby will have a shot to get back on the field and try to earn a spot at a very thin position.