The New England Patriots' tight ends have become the most feared unit in all of professional football as Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have taken over the NFL. Gronkowski and Hernandez are still only entering their third season but played last year like seasoned veterans. Their value to the offense cannot be understated.Rob Gronkowski:
The Patriots don't appear to have any qualms with Gronkowski's health coming off of a severe ankle injury that was suffered at the end of last season.
During the off-season they gave the star tight end the richest contract for a tight end in NFL history and haven't made any special efforts to add reinforcements to the depth chart for training camp.
When Gronkowski was drafted he fell out of the early rounds because of a back injury. It's still very early, and the Patriots shouldn't be worried just yet, but a training camp without any health issues for Gronkowski would go a long way to reassuring the fan base that his career is not going to be ruined by injuries.Aaron Hernandez:
After somewhat stepping into the shadow of Gronkowski last year, Hernandez should be looking to remind the Patriots that he is also a very talented player entering this year. With the addition of Brandon Lloyd, Hernandez could be free to be used differently by the Patriots now. According to ProFootballFocus, Hernandez had the fifth deepest yards per route run rate in the NFL last year and a mark that was enough to rank him 21st if classified as a wide receiver.
This is no surprise because Hernandez was the only player on the Patriots roster with the speed to consistently stretch defenses. Now that Lloyd is with the team, the Patriots have a receiver on the outside who will scare secondaries with his pace. That means Hernandez will become less predictable in how the Patriots use him.Daniel Fells:
Presuming that the Patriots carry three tight ends, Daniel Fells should feel relatively comfortable in the competition for the final spot. Fells was guaranteed $2 million on the three year deal he signed this off-season so he should be safe in camp. His closest competitor, Jake Ballard, is also not going to be healthy for training camp and likely won't play this season. Tyler Urban:
Urban is in the rare position of being an undrafted free agent who has already had an NFL team. Urban was initially signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before being released on May 17th. He is a 6'5 receiving tight end who will have to do a lot if he is to even be in contention for a place on the active roster. Jake Ballard:
The Patriots sniped Ballard from the waiver wire after the New York Giants released him this off-season. The Giants had hoped to re-sign Ballard and didn't expect any team to sign him because of his torn ACL. Bill Belichick decided to sign the emerging youngster regardless. Either way, Ballard won't be a factor entering this season. he was brought in for the future.