Today, we'll continue our camp competition series by taking a look at the position that has arguably undergone the most change this offseason: tight end.
Last offseason, when the Patriots picked up Alex Smith and Chris Baker, it seemed that the Patriots were looking completely re-tooled at the tight end position. During training camp, Alex Smith disappointed and was cut. And while David Thomas played well, he was shipped to the New Orleans Saints for a future seventh round pick. Patriots' 2004 first round draft pick Ben Watson and Chris Baker managed the position for the 2009 season. While Watson once again showed some flashes, neither were consistent options for Tom Brady and the offense. Following the season, Baker was released, and Ben Watson was allowed to walk via free agency. With two undrafted rookie free agents the lone tight ends on the roster, the tight end group underwent a complete overhaul. Veteran Alge Crumpler was brought in via free agents, and rookies Rob Grownkowski and Aaron Hernandez were selected in the second and fourth rounds of the draft, respectively. Because of the overhaul, the tight end position looks like it could be one of the most competitive positions on the roster come the end of the month.
Projected Depth Chart:
1. Rob Gronkowski, #87
2. Aaron Hernandez, #85
3. Alge Crumpler, #82
Projected Cuts: Rob Myers, #80
Rob Gronkowski, #87
When the Patriots took tight end Rob Gronkowski with the 42nd pick in April's Draft, it was commonly known that if Gronkowski could stay healthy, he could very well be the best all around tight end from this year's draft class. So far, Gronkowski has looked healthy. While he has been a little bit slow to catch on to the system and he looked a little shaky in training camp, he has shown he does have immense talent, and I think we'll see more of it come training camp. With his unique blend of size and skill, Gronkowski has a good chance to become the Patriots' traditional every down tight end. It's up to him to show he's ready for the task as a rookie. If not, veteran Alge Crumpler is waiting in the wings. Chance to Start: 50% | Chance to Make Roster: 100%
Aaron Hernandez, #85
While Aaron Hernandez likely won't be your traditional "starting" tight end for the Patriots, he has a great chance to compete for playing time, and could even have a shot to play the most of any tight end on the Patriots roster. With Hernandez' versatility to play tight end, h-back, big WR, and fullback should allow him to see the field a lot, despite his lack of traditional tight end size. Hernandez' main competition will be himself, as he needs to prove he is ready to be a big contributor to the Patriots' coaching staff. Chance to Start: 19.9% | Chance to Make Roster: 99%
Alge Crumpler, #82
Alge Crumpler has one thing going his way: he is the most experienced tight end on the Patriots' roster. While, in recent years, has been known as more of a sixth offensive lineman, Crumpler still has some value in the receiving game, and has trimmed down this offseason. While Crumpler certainly has the chance to start, he doesn't need to start to be an impact player for the Patriots. Crumpler can be an extra lineman for the Patriots in goal line and short yardage situations, a mentor for the young players, and a leader in the locker room. While these qualities are great, Crumpler still needs to compete well in camp to make the team. If the rooks play well, Crumpler could be in trouble, because the Patriots have opted with the two tight end approach in the past. Chance to Start: 30% | Chance to Make Roster: 85%
Rob Myers, #80
Rob Myers spent most of his 2009 season on the Patriots' practice squad after going undrafted out of Utah State. At 6'4", 240 lbs, Myers was developing into a nice receiving threat for the Aggies before missing his entire senior season due to a turf toe injury. Myers is a long shot to make the Patriots final 53 man roster, but he has a good shot to hang on with the practice squad, and make a name for himself in 2011. Chance to Start: .1% | Chance to Make Roster: 5%
FINAL VERDICT: The only apparent locks to make the 53 are the rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Alge Crumpler will also likely make the roster, as he provides a nice veteran presence. Rob Myers is a longshot, but should have a chance to secure a practice squad spot. Ultimately, I think Gronkowski will hold down the starting job, with Hernandez seeing a lot of snaps through a variety of different roles. Alge Crumpler will have a Kyle Brady-esque role with the team.