Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez Have Room to Improve, But Give Patriots Optimism at Tight End

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Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez Have Room to Improve, But Give Patriots Optimism at Tight End Editor’s note: Each day this week, Jeff Howe will review the Patriots’ 2010 season and preview 2011 by breaking down each position. On Monday, he looked at the quarterbacks and running backs.

The Patriots completely overhauled their corps of tight ends in 2010, and it turned out to be a massive success. With their top-three tight ends all under contract through at least 2011, the group should be even more dangerous next season.

What’s most impressive is the way they complement one another. Alge Crumpler was a tremendous leader for the two 21-year-old rookies, and the old sage proved his worth as an elite blocker. Rob Gronkowski is the most complete tight end of the three, as he’s got the ability to block and catch passes in all three levels of the defense. And Aaron Hernandez worked as an offset tight end who could also play as a slot receiver, which gave the offense a different dynamic.

Tight Ends on Final Roster
Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Carson Butler
(practice squad)

Key Statistic
Crumpler, Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for 93 catches, 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010. In 2009, Patriots tight ends Ben Watson and Chris Baker amassed a total of 43 receptions, 546 yards and seven touchdowns. Gronkowski (42, 546, 10) canceled out the 2009 crew by himself.

Hot Topic
Gronkowski and Hernandez, who were selected in the second and fourth round of the 2010 draft, respectively, have given the Patriots some real optimism for the future of the tight end position. The duo has started off on a far better clip than Daniel Graham and Watson, a pair of first-rounders who never received a second contract from the Patriots. If there was one way to really criticize New England’s offense over the last decade, it’s been its continuous lack of production from the tight ends, but that has all changed with Gronkowski and Hernandez.

Offseason Question
How much can the young guys develop?

As much praise as Gronkowski and Hernandez deserve for their rookie campaigns, there were still some glitches in their games. They didn’t always run the right routes, and the communication didn’t always seem to be as fluid as it could have been at the line of scrimmage. They’re a pair of excellent players, and Gronkowski, in particular, looks like he has the ability to be a perennial Pro Bowler. Their biggest focus this offseason, though, has to be on learning the offense, studying tape of opposing defenses and developing ESP with Tom Brady.

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