New England Patriots: tight ends

Eyes on New England's TE personnel

September, 10, 2011
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaTight end Aaron Hernandez goes up for a grab last season.
The Patriots raised some eyebrows by carrying only two tight ends -- second-year players Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez -- out of last Saturday's final cutdown. Sure, the two rookies were outstanding last year, combining to catch 87 passes for 1,109 yards and 16 touchdowns, but the Patriots often utilized multiple tight end sets last season, which made it surprising that the team didn't have additional depth.

If the Patriots were hoping to sneak some young tight ends through waivers with eyes on a practice squad spot, that got blown up by AFC East rivals as the Bills (Lee Smith) and Dolphins (Will Yeatman) intervened. The Patriots ultimately signed Gronkowski's older brother, Dan, this past week to provide an extra body at that position (and a player that can contribute on special teams).

How important is that third tight end? Consider this: Veteran tight end Alge Crumpler appeared on 604 snaps in 2010, more than half (53.4 percent) of the Patriots' total offensive snaps. Crumpler let the youngsters do the bulk of the pass catching -- grabbing only six passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns -- but played an integral role as a glorified offensive lineman. According to stats site Pro Football Focus, Crumpler served as a run blocker (365 snaps) and pass blocker (98 snaps) on 76.7 percent of his total snaps (meaning he released into pass patterns less than 1 out of every 4 snaps he was on the field).

Although he's only officially been with the Patriots since Wednesday, there's a pretty good chance we could see Dan Gronkowski serve a Crumpler-like role in Miami. According to PFF numbers, the older Gronkowski appeared on 303 offensive snaps for the Broncos last season with 67 percent of his snaps coming as a run (142 snaps) or pass (61 snaps) blocker. Like Crumpler, Dan Gronkowski was quiet statistically, catching eight passes for 65 yards without a score. Dan Gronkowski could also find himself as a blocker on kickoffs, a role Crumpler occupied in New England.

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tight ends

Breaking down TE production

December, 8, 2009
In charting offensive participation from the Patriots’ 22-21 loss to the Dolphins, it initially appeared that the lack of tight end involvement in the pass receiving game was a glaring issue.

Chris Baker and Benjamin Watson were on the field for a combined 89 snaps. They were targeted just once as receivers. Looking solely at those numbers, this headline accompanied the offensive participation breakdown: “TE production remains a concern”.

But after reviewing every Patriots offensive snap from the loss to Miami, that headline is off the mark. Here are some points that stood out to me about the involvement of tight ends in the passing game:

1. Baker released into pass routes only 10 times, while Watson released into pass routes only 15 times. Context is important when considering some of those plays were quick passes to Wes Welker or backs, so the tight ends weren't a real option as receivers but more important as downfield blockers.

2. Both tight ends had important blocks: Baker had a chip on Randy Moss’ 58-yard touchdown and blocked Joey Porter on Wes Welker’s 58-yard catch, while Watson picked up Porter on Sam Aiken’s 81-yard touchdown.

3. Tom Brady’s first read was open most of the time, specifically Welker, so there was no need to force it to the tight ends.

4. The ball was often out quickly, to Welker or the running backs. So it wasn’t as if Brady was going through his progressions and the tight ends weren’t open.

5. The tight ends weren’t part of the pass-first, two-minute offense as the Patriots went with a 3 WR/2 RB package.