In the 10 seasons that Bill Belichick has served as New England's head coach, the Patriots have gotten at least 40 receptions out of a tight end just once (Ben Watson had 49 in 2006), and they've only had four seasons when a tight end has reached 30 catches.
As a matter of fact, if you take the Patriots tight end who led the team in receptions each year from 2000-09, they've recorded an average of 29.4 catches per season. To see if there might be any improvement on that number in 2010, let's take a closer look at New England's current crop of tight ends.
Tight Ends on Roster: Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Myers
Available Roster Spots: Three seems like a certainty.
Key Statistic: Last season, New England tight ends Ben Watson and Chris Baker combined for 43 catches (11.0 percent of the team's total production), 546 yards (12.0 percent) and seven touchdowns (25.0 percent of receiving touchdowns).
Position Battle to Watch: Crumpler and Gronkowski will compete for the starting job. Crumpler is a block-first tight end whose best receiving days are long behind him, and Gronkowski looks like a versatile, do-it-all type of player. The reps will most likely come down to matchups, though. If the Patriots have a run-oriented game plan — say, for their December meeting in Buffalo — or they're trying to max protect against the Jets' pass rush, Crumpler will probably get the call. And if Gronkowski proves to be a real asset as a receiver, he'll earn his share, too.
Hot Topic: Belichick has utilized a lot of assets on tight ends during his tenure in New England, selecting 10 of them in 11 drafts, including two in the first round (Daniel Graham and Watson), one in the second round (Gronkowski) and one in the third round (David Thomas). Yet, the Patriots have gotten little statistical production out of the position. Will Gronkowski and Herndandez — a pass-catching specialist at Florida — represent the wave of the future, or will it be more of the same for a Patriots offense that hasn’t relied on a tight end since Ben Coates?
NESN.com will be breaking down the Patriots by position.
Thursday, July 22: Wide receivers
Saturday, July 24: Offensive line