Positional Analysis: Tight Ends on the New England Patriots
Before the draft, the tight end position looked to be a weak point in an otherwise potent offense. Alge Crumpler is a good blocker and receiver. However, he is old and well out of his prime.
After the draft, New England’s tight end core looks intensely dangerous. Aaron Hernandez is a big play threat with speed and a quickness that is rare in tight ends. He ran a 4.58 second 40-yard dash and clocked an impressive 6.83 second 3-cone drill.
For your reference, Demaryius Thomas, a highly ranked wide receiver drafted in the first round, had a 3-cone drill time measured at 7.11 seconds.
Rob Gronkowski, the other tight end the Patriots drafted, is coming off back surgery. He will be a great change of pace paired with Hernandez. Gronkowski is not lacking in the speed department, nor is he flat-footed, but he is not as fast as Hernandez (4.65 40-yard dash) or as quick (7.18 3-cone).
However, he weighs about 20 more pounds than Aaron and his quick burst off the line of scrimmage will create mismatches when he gets himself open in the secondary, as he is larger than all defensive backs.
Aaron Hernandez gives the Patriots strength where the team struggled last season: The Red Zone.
New England scored a touchdown only 52.3% of the time when in the Red Zone, good for the 13th best percentage in the NFL. Despite ranking third overall in trips inside the 20 (65), the Pats only managed 34 touchdowns.
Part of the problem was the running game. Laurence Maroney seemed to catch a case of the drops whenever he was in a goal line situation, and the team does not have a player who can consistently pound the ball into the end zone.
However, Hernandez is a significant threat in the Red Zone, and look for Brady to seek out the young tight end from the start of the season.
Hernandez’s quickness enables him to get open amidst linebackers who are seldom as quick as he, and he possesses the catching and leaping ability to snatch balls through the tight “windows” inevitable in the end zone.
Alge Crumpler is the best blocking tight end New England has, and is already a respected locker room presence. Last season, New England struggled with a lack of leadership, evident in second-half collapses.
Further, Crumpler was a pro-bowl caliber player in his prime, so with his mentoring Hernandez and Gronkowski should improve rapidly over the course of the season.
Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski both pose mismatches for opposing defenses. Hernandez is quicker than most linebackers and is a talented pass catcher, while Gronkowski has the speed to reach the second level where his size can dominant smaller defensive backs.
Grade: B+ (since a lot of weight rides on rookie talent)
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