Future Focus: Tight ends

Sixth in a series of positional "look-aheads" for the Patriots:

Tight end: Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Carson Butler

Stat check: Gronkowski played the most snaps (756), followed by Crumpler (540) and Hernandez (486). Gronkowski finished with 42 receptions and 10 touchdown catches.

First instinct: The Patriots hit it big with Gronkowski, who slipped to the second round of the 2010 draft because of a back injury that cost him his final collegiate season at Arizona. Gronkowski wasn’t slowed by the back in New England, playing in every game and not missing a practice.

Storyline not to be overlooked: Crumpler’s impact. A 10-year veteran, his locker was between Gronkowski and Hernandez and he took both rookies under his wing throughout the year. His leadership earned him a role as a team captain just a few weeks into the season.

Future: Crumpler enters the final season of the two-year contract he signed in 2010. He should be back in 2011, while Gronkowski and Hernandez are inked through 2013.

Final thought: This is one of the most solidified positions on the roster. The Patriots would be extending themselves to keep a fourth tight end on the roster, so the club is likely to return the same group of players in 2011. If the Patriots draft a tight end, it would likely be in the late rounds with the idea of grooming him on the practice squad.

Your thoughts: What do you think the Patriots should do at tight end this offseason? Stand pat? Start grooming Crumpler’s replacement?