The Patriots were rumored to be in attendance for the pro day of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, who is expected to be selected by the Rams with the No. 1 pick in next week’s NFL draft. So why were the Pats present? In all likelihood, it had something to do with Bradford’s biggest target, tight end Jermaine Gresham.
The 6-foot-5, 261-pounder didn’t play in 2009 after tearing cartilage in his right knee during the preseason. In his sophomore and junior seasons combined, though, Gresham caught 103 passes for 1,468 yards and 25 touchdowns. His 26 career touchdowns were seven shy of the NCAA record for tight ends.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
Why? Because the Patriots will certainly be drafting a tight end, and Gresham is the best one in the 2010 draft class. He is a physical specimen and he is an elite pass catcher. Those were two qualities that caused the Patriots to select Ben Watson at No. 32 in 2004. More importantly, Gresham would make for a great complement to block-first tight end Alge Crumpler.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
Gresham, who will turn 22 in June, has suffered two serious knee injuries, and that’s probably why he isn’t being considered in the top 10. Plus, Bill Belichick has already failed to get first-round production out of Watson and Daniel Graham, and that could make the head coach wary to use another opening-round selection on a tight end. And finally, the Patriots’ biggest needs are at defensive end and outside linebacker. There figures to be a handful of worthy tight ends on the board in the second round — none with the upside of a healthy Gresham — meaning the Patriots might be more inclined to target a pass rusher at No. 22.
Potential Impact in 2010
If the Patriots are dedicated to getting the ball to their tight ends, Gresham could make a significant statistical impact, especially while quarterback Tom Brady tries to compensate for the loss of Wes Welker. But if Bill O’Brien’s offensive system keeps its tight ends in blocking roles, Gresham could get stuck behind Crumpler on the depth chart.
What the Locals Are Saying
Gresham is among a half-dozen players from the state of Oklahoma who could get taken in the first round.
Likelihood Gresham Is Available at No. 22
It’s probably better than a 50 percent chance, but the team to watch is the Bengals (No. 21), whose top need is at tight end. It seems unlikely Gresham would be off the board in the top 20, but Cincinnati is a serious contender for his services.
NESN.com will spotlight players the Patriots could take with their first-round pick.
April 13: Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap