After just two seasons in the league, it's looking like the Patriots might actually have a once-in-a-generation tandem of tight ends, and their exponential progress in 2011 yields even more optimism for next season.
To think, it's amazing how far this position has progressed since the end of the 2009 season, when the Patriots culminated a stretch years with a mishmash of tight ends.
Tight Ends on Final Roster: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Carson Butler (practice squad), Dorin Dickerson (practice squad/injured reserve)
Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for 169 catches, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns in the regular season. That's about equal to the four seasons of tight end production before they got to town. From 2006-09, tight ends Ben Watson, Daniel Graham, David Thomas, Kyle Brady and Chris Baker combined for 200 receptions, 2,344 yards and 23 touchdowns.
As if this could go in any other direction, let's just dive right into Gronkowski's left ankle. Clearly, Gronkowski wasn't at full strength for Super Bowl XLVI, and wide receiver Deion Branch said 75 percent of the NFL wouldn't have played through the type of pain Gronkowski was experiencing. But then, Gronkowski was seen dancing at the postgame party, which has caused quite the outburst.
The bottom line is Gronkowski did everything possible to get himself ready for the Super Bowl, and he put forth a maximum effort on the field. Even if the postgame stuff didn't exactly paint himself in the greatest light, what he does after the game is his business. Gronkowski is a fun-loving 22-year-old, and everyone already knew that. He's also driven by greatness on the field, and he'll be ready to go in 2012.
Where will the Patriots look to address the third tight end?
Veteran Alge Crumpler was instrumental to the youngsters' success in 2010, but he was apparently too injured to return this season. In turn, the Patriots brought a pair of rookies to camp — Lee Smith and Will Yeatman — but they were both swiped away in the waiver process, which probably didn't make Bill Belichick the happiest of people. With the type of pounding that tight ends take, it's wise to have a valued contributor at the third spot on the depth chart, and that's a position the Patriots will address this offseason, either in the draft or free agency.
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